U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday, trying to get the moderate Palestinian leader to return to peace talks with Israel. VOA's Jim Teeple reports from Jerusalem, Secretary Rice is also meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and other senior Israeli officials as part of her efforts to get the negotiations back on track.
Mr. Abbas pulled out of peace talks with Israel on Sunday after more than 120 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces attacking Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip. Israeli ground forces withdrew from Gaza on Monday but air strikes continue against the militants, who continue to fire rockets at towns and cities in southern Israel.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Mr. Abbas, Secretary Rice says she is concerned about victims on both sides.
"We are very concerned about the recent violence that has led to many innocent people being caught in the crossfire and we have relayed to you [Abbas] about our concern over innocent victims in Gaza," she said. "I also talked about the importance that the rocket attacks need to stop on Israeli citizens where innocent Israelis are also at risk.
At the same time Rice says the current violence should not disrupt the peace talks between Mr. Abbas's moderate government and Israel.
"We all must keep our eye on what we are trying to achieve and what we are trying to achieve is indeed not easy," she said. "It is to conclude an agreement that can lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state by the end of the year."
While Secretary Rice said she still believes that can be accomplished, Mr. Abbas gave no indication he plans to return to negotiations with Israel anytime soon. The Palestinian leader says nothing can justify Israeli forces killing civilians in Gaza.
Mr. Abbas says there should be a long term ceasefire in both the West Bank and Gaza, and only that will help bring about peace this year. He also says security for both sides can only be reached through negotiations and not by using force.
Israel's Foreign Minister said Tuesday that Israeli military ground forces might have to return to Gaza if the rocket attacks continue, saying Gaza has become an extreme Islamic state ruled by Hamas.
In her remarks on Tuesday Secretary Rice also blamed the current crisis squarely on Hamas saying the international community will not let Hamas win.
"If in fact it is Hamas's intention to destroy the peace process by launching rockets at Israel, if it is their intention to destroy the possibility for the Palestinian people to live in their own state, if it is their intention to launch rockets and make it impossible to have freedom of movement, then perhaps they should be called to account for doing precisely that," she said.
So far Hamas militants and other Palestinian militant groups in Gaza firing rockets at Israel have rejected calls to stop. However Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar said Tuesday Hamas has been holding talks with third parties about reaching a ceasefire with Israel.
Israeli radio news reports say during a stopover in Cairo earlier Tuesday, Egyptian officials gave Secretary Rice a detailed plan to ease tensions in Gaza by opening Egypt's border with the territory, while at the same time clamping down on smuggling routes into Gaza.