RAMALLAH, West Bank, (Reuters) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on Saturday for talks with Israel despite a surge of violence and said that a just peace was his people’s goal.
“We condemn all the attacks, we demand peace and we are determined to make peace, and there is no other path but the path of peace based on international justice,” Abbas told a rally at his headquarters.
A Palestinian gunman killed eight Jewish seminary students on Thursday, the bloodiest attack in Israel in two years. Hamas, which had vowed to avenge the more than 125 Palestinians killed in a recent Gaza offensive by Israel, claimed responsibility.
The shootings in Jerusalem triggered calls by Israeli right-wingers for U.S.-sponsored talks with Abbas to be scrapped. Abbas’ mandate has been limited to the occupied West Bank since his Islamist Hamas rivals took over the Gaza Strip last year.
The Israeli government said it would hold course. The Jewish state, with Western backing, shuns Hamas, making Abbas the focus of any hope for progress toward a permanent coexistence accord.
Talks between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have been held up due to Israel’s construction on West Bank land where, along with Gaza, Palestinians want to establish a state.
Many Israelis have voiced reluctance to give up the West Bank after a 2005 withdrawal of troops and settlers from Gaza led to the rise of Hamas and frequent cross-border rocket fire.
Abbas, who briefly suspended peace talks in protest at the fighting in Gaza, reiterated a demand that the rocket salvoes stop and endorsed Egyptian efforts — so far inconclusive — to broker a truce by Hamas and other Palestinian militants.
But the Palestinian president made clear his view that real calm could only be secured by sweeping and sincere peace talks. He listed core demands for agreement on future borders, the status of Jerusalem, and the fate of millions of Palestinian war refugees and thousands of Palestinians held in Israeli jails.
“If we were to get these, then we would be ready for a just, fair and comprehensive peace agreement,” Abbas said.
Olmert has pledged to work toward securing an accord with Abbas before January, when U.S. President George W. Bush steps down. But, like Abbas, he is weak domestically. He also depends on rightist factions to keep his coalition government going.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Saturday that a special U.S.-Israeli-Palestinian committee, led by U.S. Gen. William Fraser, would meet probably on Thursday to examine to what extent the sides were meeting their commitments under a long-stalled peace “road map.”
Israel has vowed to keep major West Bank settlement blocs as well as the ancient Old City in the heart of East Jerusalem, among Arab territories captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
Israel considers all of Jerusalem its capital — a status not recognised internationally — while Palestinians want the eastern part of the city as capital of their future state.