The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Wednesday that he would continue peace talks with Israel if the latter agreed to halt attacks on the Gaza Strip.

On Sunday, President Abbas halted talks with Israeli officials in protest of the military attacks on the Palestinian coastal region. The military ground operation, dubbed ‘Operation Hot Winter’, targeted the northern part of the Gaza Strip, beginning on Saturday at dawn and continuing through Monday morning. During this attack, 86 Palestinians were killed, among them children, as well as nearly 300 injured.

B’TSELEM – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, issued a report on Tuesday, stating that 54 of those killed in the three day offensive on northern Gaza were civilians, among them 25 children.

The U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice arrived in the region on Tuesday for a two day visit, in an attempt to persuade President Abbas to return to the negotiating table.

On Tuesday, Secretary Rice meet Egyptian and Palestinian officials, and was set to meet Israeli officials today.

Yesterday, President Abbas told Secretary Rice, ‘The negotiations must be started, but after the truce, once the truce is achieved, the road will be open for negotiations.’

President Abbas offered his truce on Monday, which involves the halt of attacks on Gaza, in return for Hamas, which controls Gaza, to stop the launching of homemade shells into southern Israeli areas. In addition, Egypt will open the borders with the Gaza Strip.

Olmert stated on Tuesday that he is willing to return to negotiations with the Palestinians, but the army will continue to attack Gaza.

Palestinian homemade shells have killed 13 Israelis since 2001, while Israeli attacks in just three days over the weekend left 86 Palestinians dead.

Hamas took total control of Gaza in June 2007 after six months long of bloody infighting with President Abbas’ rival Fatah faction.

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