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French Version

Royal praises Abbas as Gaza cease-fire shows cracks

French presidential candidate Segolene Royal praised Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in a face-to-face meeting on Sunday for what she called his attempts to form a more moderate national unity government, although talks between Abbas' Fatah movement and Hamas have broken down.

Royal's stop in the Palestinian Territories came as Israelis and Palestinians threatened to scrap a truce in the Gaza Strip, with Palestinian militants insisting the cease-fire must also apply to the West Bank and Israeli leaders complaining that Gaza rocket squads are still active.

The French Socialist Party candidate has been touring the Middle East in part to establish her credibility with voters as a capable actor on the international stage. Her trip began Thursday in Lebanon. After a stopover in Jordan on Saturday night, she arrived in Gaza.

In talks with Royal, Abbas expressed hope Sunday for restarting talks on the formation of a unity government. Abbas had announced Thursday that the talks had failed.

"The efforts at present have stopped, but we must preserve hope," Abbas said.

"The question is not a disagreement on positions or posts, but on principle. We want a government that is able to lift the siege on the Palestinian people," he said.

Royal said a unity government "would be substantial progress toward recognizing the principles of the Quartet" of peace mediators - the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia.

Royal had no meetings with Hamas representatives, her entourage said, though she had said she was open to the idea.

Royal has supported resuming aid to the Palestinians and urged a greater European role in Middle East peacemaking. Later, the former family minister met with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, a week-old Gaza cease-fire teetered Sunday as militants and Israel accused each other of violations. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told visiting Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik on Sunday that he was running out of patience. "The prime minister expressed his concern about the continuation of the violations of the cease-fire and warned that Israel would not be able to show restraint for very much longer in the face of the ongoing rocket fire," a statement from Olmert's office said.

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz told a security Cabinet meeting on Sunday the cease-fire in Gaza was only being partially observed, and militants there continued to fire rockets into Israel.

As he spoke, Israeli troops killed a Palestinian teenager on Sunday in a confrontation with stone-throwers in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian ambulance workers said.

Also on Sunday, militants in the Gaza Strip fired a rocket at Israel, an Israeli military spokeswoman said. The rocket caused no injuries or damage.

"The cease-fire should be used as an opportunity to give hope to the [peace] process," European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana told reporters in Jerusalem before meeting Livni.

Under the truce struck on November 26, Israel agreed to withdraw its troops from Gaza, where they have been operating for the past five months, if militants stopped firing rockets.

However, Israeli troops have since carried out several operations in the West Bank, where a truce is not in effect, killing five people, including four civilians, and raiding several homes.

Peretz said he was against expanding the truce to the occupied West Bank, in compliance with requests from Israel's main ally, the United States.

Israel will "continue using the same patterns of operation [in the West Bank]," Peretz said. "We have information that terror organizations are planning to carry out attacks."

Hamas has insisted that the truce includes the West Bank. In a statement, Hamas accused Israel of violating the agreement after the 15-year-old Palestinian was shot dead.

"The continuation of the mass arrests, assassinations, and incursions means that the occupation forces have not abided by the cease-fire, which threatens to blow up [the agreement] at any moment," a Hamas statement said.

Islamic Jihad spokesman Abu Hamza charged that Israel was violating the cease-fire by continuing operations in the West Bank.

A statement from the group said Israel would be responsible "for any response in the coming hours" by Islamic Jihad.

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, meanwhile, gave Israel a two-week ultimatum to extend the truce to the West Bank.

The Daily Star

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