RAMALLAH, West Bank – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday said peace efforts with Israel must move forward despite an especially bloody spate of violence capped by a deadly attack on a Jewish seminary in Jerusalem.
Abbas also reiterated his support for Egypt's efforts to mediate a truce between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.
"Despite all the circumstances we're living through and all the attacks we're experiencing, we insist on peace. There is no other path," Abbas said in a speech marking International Women's Day.
Israel has sent mixed signals since Thursday night's shooting, in which a Palestinian gunman burst into a prestigious Jerusalem seminary and killed eight students, many of whom were studying religious holy texts in the building's library.
Officials have indicated a willingness to move ahead with peace talks with Abbas, launched last November at a U.S.-hosted summit in Annapolis, Md. The sides hope to reach a final agreement by the end of the year. The Egyptian-backed truce efforts remain more cloudy, especially if it turns out that Hamas was behind the seminary shooting.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said Israel "remains committed to the Annapolis framework." But he said there were no decisions on when talks would resume.
"We believe in historic reconciliation with the Palestinians. One of the foundations of Annapolis was no tolerance of terrorism. The best way to move forward is for the Palestinian side to be a real partner, not only in talks, but in helping to fight this sort of hateful extremism we saw this week," he said.
The U.S. has said extremist violence should not be allowed to derail peace talks.
Earlier this week, Abbas suspended the talks to protest an Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip that killed more than 120 Palestinians, including dozens of civilians. Israel launched the offensive to halt intensifying rocket fire from Gaza, which is controlled by the Hamas militant group. Abbas later backed down under heavy U.S. pressure.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said peace talks are expected to resume on Thursday with the arrival of U.S. Lt. Gen. William Fraser III for a joint meeting with Israelis and Palestinians. Fraser is supposed to monitor the sides' compliance with the "road map," a U.S.-backed peace plan.
Regev said the Fraser meeting still was not definite.
Separately, Egypt, backed by the U.S., is exploring a truce deal between Israel and Hamas that would stop rocket fire on Israel in exchange for an end to Israeli attacks on militants and the resumption of trade and travel from Gaza, where border crossings have been closed since Hamas violently seized control of the coastal strip in June.
Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said his group seeks a simultaneous and reciprocal calm, that is accompanied by actual measures on the ground to lift the closure on Gaza.
"So long as there is an assault, there will be resistance," he said.
Militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad traveled from Gaza to Egypt last week to confer with senior Egyptian intelligence officials on a truce. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Welch also was in Egypt.
In his speech Saturday, Abbas called for a "calm" in Gaza and reiterated his support for the Egyptian efforts. "These brutal attacks (in Gaza) must stop and these rockets must stop, and Gaza's border crossings must open, all of them," he said.
Regev declined to discuss the Egyptian mediation efforts. But in a sign that Israel was preparing to resume contacts, Israel Radio reported that Amos Gilad, a senior Defense Ministry official, would head to Egypt on Sunday to discuss the Gaza situation. Israeli defense officials were not immediately available to confirm the report.
The outlook could become clearer once Israel determines who was responsible for the attack. The shooter has been identified as a 25-year-old Palestinian man from east Jerusalem, but it remains unclear whether he acted alone or received support.
Relatives of the man, Alaa Abu Dheim, said he had been distraught over the violence in Gaza, and Hamas and Hezbollah flags hung outside the customary mourning tent.
Hamas radio had said Friday the militant group took responsibility, but later retracted the report. A previously unknown, Lebanese-based group, the "Martyrs of Imad Mughniyeh" — after a senior Hezbollah commander killed in Syria last month — claimed responsibility, the Al-Manar satellite TV station reported. But the claim could not be independently confirmed. Hezbollah has blamed Israel for Mughniyeh's assassination and vowed revenge.
Concerned about more violence, Israel slapped a closure on the West Bank over the weekend, barring most Palestinians from entering Israel. Military officials said it was not known when the closure would be lifted.