Abbas says he is committed to peace talks, but names no date


Ramallah : Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Tuesday he remained committed to peace negotiations with Israel, but declined to say when the talks, frozen in wake of the worst violence in the region for decades, would resume.

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“It’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity, we have committed to these negotiations … I think I’m clear,” he told a news conference in Ramallah with visiting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Abbas suspended the peace talks with Israel, only restarted in December, Sunday in wake of fierce fighting in the Gaza Strip that left 125 Palestinians dead as Israel launched air and ground offensives in response to rocket fire from the salient on its southern towns and villages.

Rice, who arrived in Ramallah Tuesday afternoon from Cairo, met President Mahmoud Abbas and urged him to continue peace talks with Israel.

“I still believe that can be done,” Rice said of the chances of reaching a statehood agreement in 2008. “We look forward to the resumption of those negotiations as soon as possible,” she added.

She was also slated to hold talks with acting Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and with chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qureia.

In Cairo, Rice accused Hamas, which administers the Gaza Strip, of being responsible for the rocket attacks which prompted the Israeli offensive.

“The people who are firing rockets do not want peace, they sow instability, that is what Hamas is doing,” she said.

“There has to be an active peace process that can withstand the efforts of rejectionists to keep peace from being made,” she told reporters.

She said that although Israel could not “tolerate” rocket attacks on its cities, the Israelis needed to be aware of the effects of their operations “on innocent people”.

Rice has also met Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the morning.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas agreed at a Nov 27, US-hosted peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland to restart peace talks, after a seven-year hiatus, with the goal of reaching an agreement by the end of this year.

Israel, however, launched a massive offensive last Wednesday in retaliation to the rocket attacks by Hamas.

The Palestinian casualty toll is the highest since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.