Rice says Palestinian-Israeli peace talks to resume

United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Wednesday Israel and the Palestinians had agreed to resume peace talks suspended over an Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip, but she did not specify a date.

Signalling a willingness by Israel to hold fire, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said there would not be further attacks on Hamas-ruled Gaza if Palestinian militants stop rocket salvoes.

Rice dispatched a top envoy to Cairo, a key player in trying to broker any calm between the Jewish state and Islamist Hamas.

Hamas’s rival, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said earlier peace negotiations could not get under way again until Israel reached a truce with militants in Gaza, which has been under an ever-tightening blockade designed to pressure Hamas.

Abbas’s comments touched off a flurry of behind-the-scenes lobbying by Rice with the Palestinians. After speaking to Abbas by telephone, she told a news conference a truce was not a condition for restarting the talks on Palestinian statehood.

”I’ve been informed by the parties that they intend to resume the negotiations and that they are in contact with one another as to how to bring this about,” Rice said at a news conference with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

Rice, ending a two-day visit to Israel and the occupied West Bank, did not say when the next round of talks would be held. The US hopes talks could result in an agreement before US President George Bush leaves office in January.

Abbas had frozen talks with Israel on Sunday in protest at an Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip in which more than 120 Palestinians and two Israeli soldiers were killed. Medical workers said about half of the Palestinian dead were civilians.

Israel ended the five-day sweep on Monday but threatened to send troops back into the territory, which Hamas seized from Abbas’s secular Fatah faction in June, if rocket fire continued.

But Olmert told reporters on Wednesday after meeting Rice: ”One thing should be clear: If there is no Qassam [rocket] fire on Israel, there will be no Israeli attack on Gaza. We do not rise in the morning and think about how to attack Gaza.” — Reuters

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