Palestinian-Israeli peace talks still suspended

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GAZA, March 4 (RIA Novosti) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Tuesday that he was committed in the long-term to peace talks with Israel, but did not say when negotiations would be able to resume.

Abbas held a joint news conference with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice after their meeting in Ramallah, West Bank.

The Palestinian leader suspended the U.S.-brokered peace negotiations with Israel after the Israeli military launched an offensive in Gaza.

Abbas said: "I call on the Israeli government to halt its aggression so the necessary environment can be created to make negotiations succeed, for us and for them, to reach the shores of peace in 2008."

Rice told reporters: "I know that there is great will to try and get to a solution by the end of the year. What we are trying to achieve is not easy ... but I do believe it can be done. We need very much for everybody to be focused on peace."

Rice traveled to the West Bank and Israel to meet Abbas and, separately Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in a bid to salvage negotiations launched at a U.S.-sponsored conference in Annapolis in November.

The Israeli army pulled out of Gaza on Monday, but Hamas militants continued firing rockets at Israel, prompting additional Israeli airstrikes.

Hamas militants have recently intensified rocket and mortar attacks at border towns in southern Israel, including Sderot and Ashkelon. In less than a week of escalating conflict between Israelis and Palestinians 190 Qassam rockets were launched against southern Israel, as well as 20 more powerful missiles and 67 mortars.

Israel responded with airstrikes targeting Hamas facilities and militia, and launched last Wednesday a ground offensive in northern Gaza that killed at least 120 Palestinians, and injured 400, including women and children.

At the Annapolis forum, Abbas and Olmert pledged to forge a peace deal by the end of 2008.

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