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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Tuesday that he was doing his utmost to secure the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit and to stop rocket attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip.
Abbas, who was speaking to reporters here after holding talks with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, called on the international community "to pay attention to the suffering of the families of about 10,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails - some for over three decades."
He also called for an immediate cease-fire between the Palestinians and Israel so that both parties could resume peace negotiations.
"We want a cease-fire now; we want to prevent the fire from spreading," Abbas said. "We are making efforts to maintain the period of calm so that we could revive the diplomatic process."
The talks were held in Abbas's Mukata "presidential" compound amid unprecedented security measures that included the closure of all streets leading to the area. A general strike was observed in the city and elsewhere in the PA territories to protest against Rice's visit.
The strike was ordered by all Palestinian factions, including Abbas's Fatah party, which called for a "day of rage" in the PA territories to protest against the visit.
Before Rice and her entourage arrived, some 1,000 demonstrators chanting slogans in support of Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah tried to force their way into the Mukata but were pushed back by PA policemen. The protesters also shouted slogans against Rice and the US, accusing them of bias in favor of Israel.
"We don't want this criminal in our city," said Ala Mujahed, a university student. "She and her boss, [US President George W.] Bush, are the biggest enemies of the Arabs and Muslims. They are responsible for the massacres in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine."
Tawfik Judeh, a local shopkeeper, said he was "very disappointed" with Abbas for receiving Rice in Ramallah. "She came to the region to support Israel and provide the Jews with more weapons to kill Arabs," he said. "It's too bad that our leaders showed respect for her by allowing her to enter our territories."
During the meeting, Abbas briefed Rice on his efforts to persuade all Palestinian factions to agree to a cease-fire with Israel. He said that while most factions had expressed their desire to stop rocket attacks on Israel, some armed groups have not yet agreed to a cease-fire.
PA officials said Abbas expressed optimism regarding the fate of Shalit, saying Hamas was keen on ending the case peacefully and quickly. According to Abbas, Hamas has agreed in principle to release the soldier in return for Arab guarantees that Israel would release hundreds of Palestinians at a later stage.
Abbas also briefed Rice on the financial crisis in the PA and called for US pressure on Israel to halt its military operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, one official told The Jerusalem Post. He said the Palestinians were "disappointed" by Rice's visit "because she did not come with anything new."
Rice said after the meeting that the US wanted an "urgent and enduring" peace where problems were solved without war.
"We need to get to a sustainable peace; there must be a way for people to reconcile their differences," she said.
Rice said she briefed Abbas "on efforts we're making to bring about an urgent but enduring cease-fire in Lebanon, one that can deal with the causes of extremism that began this crisis and that can also lead to the establishment of the sovereignty of the Lebanese government throughout its territory."
Rice reassured Abbas that while Washington and its allies were engaged in resolving the crisis in Lebanon, the US had not forgotten the Palestinians' problems.
"The Palestinian people have lived too long with violence and the daily humiliations that go along with the circumstances here," she said.
"I assured the president that we had great concerns about the sufferings of innocent people throughout the region," she told reporters.
"Even as the Lebanon situation resolves, we must remain focused on what is happening here. You have our pledge that we will continue our common work of bringing a two-state solution to the people of Palestine and the people of Israel, that we will not tire in our efforts."