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(photo credit: AP)
Terrorism and rockets not only kill innocent civilians, "they also kill the legitimate hopes and aspirations of the Palestinian people," US Vice President Dick Cheney said in Ramallah Sunday, standing next to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Cheney's remarks, a clear reference to Hamas, came on the same day that Fatah and Hamas signed a declaration agreeing to resume talks.
Cheney, at a press conference with Abbas after their meeting, reassured the PA president that America would continue to support efforts to establish a Palestinian state. The US remained "strongly committed" to the creation of a Palestinian state, which was "long overdue," he said.
Achieving that, Cheney said, "requires tremendous efforts at the negotiating table and painful concessions on both sides. It will also require a determination to defeat those who are committed to violence and who refuse to accept the basic right of the other side to exist."
A senior PA official said Abbas demanded during the meeting that Washington pressure Israel to stop construction in settlements in the West Bank and in east Jerusalem.
"Unless the Americans employ heavy pressure on the Israelis, there is no chance of fulfilling [US President George W.] Bush's vision of reaching a two-state solution by the end of the year," the official told The Jerusalem Post. "But today we got the impression that the Bush administration has no intention to put enough pressure on Israel."
Another official in Ramallah expressed disappointment over Cheney's visit.
"He didn't bring anything new," the official said. "We don't want statements; we want deeds. Bush is deluding himself if he thinks that a peace agreement could be achieved by the end of 2008."
At the joint press conference, Abbas condemned the firing of rockets at Israel, saying he believed in real peace that would end the conflict.
"Peace would weaken the forces of terror and extremism," he said. "It would also create the proper atmosphere for cooperation, coexistence and democracy."
Calling on the US and the international community to support efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East, Abbas said he was continuing to work toward the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital that would exist alongside Israel in peace and security.
"What is required is will, courage and strong support from the international community to reach peace," he said.
Peace and stability would not be achieved through the expansion of Jewish settlements and IDF checkpoints, Abbas said. He also criticized Israel's most recent military operations in the Gaza Strip, continuing detention of Palestinians, and IDF incursions into Palestinian areas in general.
Following his talks with Abbas, Cheney also met with PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad.
Cheney, in Israel for two days as part of a 10-day regional tour, flew by helicopter to Ramallah on Sunday, after attending non-denominational Easter services at the US Consulate in Jerusalem.
Before going to Ramallah he met with President Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
Upon returning from Ramallah he dined with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and other senior defense officials at Barak's home in Tel Aviv.
According to a release put out by Barak's office, the defense minister told Cheney that "Iran's build-up is endangering the stability of the region and the entire world. Israel still believes that there is still time for sanctions, but none of the options should be removed from the table."
Iran was also a major focus of Cheney's talks with Peres, who indicated that under the current constellation of forces in the region, Israel could not afford to withdraw from the Golan Heights.
While Israel's hand was always extended in peace, Peres said, "Israel is not prepared for a deal whereby the Golan Heights will be returned to Syria in exchange for Iranian-Syrian control in Lebanon."
Peres said that large quantities of weaponry purchased with Iranian money were passing to Hizbullah everyday through Syria, and that Syria was turning into an Iranian satellite trying to control Lebanon.
Cheney, according to Peres's office, said the US was concerned about the arms going to Hizbullah from Syria, and that it did not appear that Syrian President Bashar Assad was interested in any kind of dialogue.
Cheney, who on Saturday night said that American support for Israel's security was "unshakable," told Peres the US was well aware of the threats facing the Jewish state, and that it was clear the Iranian threat was not to Israel alone, but also to the US.
Cheney, who met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Saturday night for talks of which no details were released, is scheduled to meet with him again on Monday morning before departing for Turkey.