Talks on Palestinian state to continue despite right-wing fury

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The Independent Online

Israel yesterday pledged to continue negotiations with the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank, despite a deadly attack on a Jewish seminary which is suspected to have been carried out by Hamas.

An Israeli official said his government would press on with the talks "so as not to punish moderate Palestinians for actions by people who are not just our enemies but theirs as well".

Both the US and Britain have urged Israel and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas not to abandon discussions to determine the outlines of a future Palestinian state.

But there were fears that right-wing parties, perhaps including the religious party Shas which is a member of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's coalition, would press for the talks to be broken off in the wake of the shooting.

David Rotem, of the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party, which walked out of Mr Olmert's coalition earlier this year, declared on Israel Radio: "The government must immediately halt all negotiations and eradicate terrorism in every way possible. Later, when we have someone to talk with, we can hold negotiations."

An escalation of violence has put increasing pressure on the talks. Mr Abbas said he was breaking off the talks immediately after last weekend's Israeli military operation in Gaza, until Hamas and Israel had agreed a ceasefire. But under concerted pressure from Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, Mr Abbas agreed hours later to resume the talks.

Yesterday the White House again made it clear it wanted the talks to continue and Gordon Brown, after giving Israel his condolences, declared: "Those who wish to stop the peace process by violence should be stopped from doing so by the combined voices of people throughout the world."

Yossi Beilin, the outgoing leader of the left-of-centre Meretz-Yahad, said: "It's the job of a responsible leadership... to say in moments like these ... that we, at least we in Israel, will do everything we can in order not to be dragged into this cycle."

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