Resume West Asia peace talks, says Rice

March 4th, 2008 - 8:44 pm ICT by admin  

Cairo/Gaza City, March 4 (DPA) US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, arriving in the region Tuesday, urged Israel and the Palestinians to continue peace talks despite the worst violence in Gaza in years. Rice met Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo Tuesday morning, before heading to the West Bank for talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has threatened to walk out of the US-sponsored talks re-launched in November after a seven-year freeze in the peace process over the high death toll of Palestinians in Gaza in air-strikes and fierce Israeli ground fighting with local militants.

Israel launched two more air-strikes at dawn Tuesday, killing one Palestinian militant in eastern Gaza City and a second in the Jabaliya refugee camp, further north.

Four others were injured, Gaza emergency services chief Mo’awia Hassanein said.

He said the Palestinian death toll since the latest round of violence erupted Wednesday rose to 125, after several Palestinians died of wounds in an Egyptian hospital in al-Arish, south-west of the Strip. He said some 380 others were injured.

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

The radical Islamic Hamas movement issued an angry statement blaming Egypt for the toll, charging Cairo with failure to transfer the wounded to better-equipped hospitals in the capital.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said Tuesday’s air-strikes targeted a group of armed militants who had just launched a rocket at Israel and others who were fleeing a rocket-launching site.

“Negotiations ought to resume as soon as possible,” Rice told reporters during a refuelling stop earlier in Brussels en route to Cairo.

“I will be talking about how we can get the negotiations back on track,” she said. “I continue to believe that they can get to a deal by the end of the year if everyone’s got the will to do it.”

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas agreed to a Nov 27, US-hosted peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland, to reach an agreement by the end of this year.

Rice was due to meet Abbas and acting Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in the West Bank city of Ramallah Tuesday afternoon, after which she was to meet Olmert over dinner in Jerusalem.

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