PM: Palestinians 'testing our patience'

After meeting Rice, Olmert says Gaza ops will go on; secretary of state: Rocket attacks must stop.

rice and olmert 224.88 (photo credit: GPO)
rice and olmert 224.88
(photo credit: GPO)
"The Palestinians are testing our patience to the limit and are pulling us to the limits of our tolerance," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said at the start of his meeting with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Tokyo late Wednesday night. The meeting took place after a day in which an estimated 50 rockets pummeled the western Negev and Ashkelon, killing a student at Sderot's Sapir Academic College. After the talks, the prime minister said that everything taking place in Gaza today, also occurred a week ago and is likely to happen again next week. "We are in the midst of a battle and we will continue to fight until the danger posed to Sderot residents subsides," he said. "It is a long, painful process but we do not have the option of stopping it in one day. We are absorbing blows but returning heavier blows," continued Olmert. Regarding the meeting with Rice, Olmert said: "I explained to the secretary of state the reality of the situation in Gaza just as I am explaining it to the people of Israel. I said that we would not stop our fight. We will force the terrorists to pay a heavy price, without making too many declarations. I believe that this policy is also clear to southerners." After the hour-long meeting, Rice said that Hamas rocket attacks against Israel "need to stop" and demanded an end to the escalating violence that has rocked the Gaza Strip and set back US efforts to promote a Mideast peace deal. "I am concerned about the humanitarian conditions there and innocent people in Gaza who are being hurt," Rice told reporters. "We have to remember that the Hamas activities there are responsible for what has happened in Gaza - the illegal coup that they led against the legitimate institutions of the Palestinian Authority," she added. "It is very clear where this started." Rice is planning to visit the region next week to meet with Palestinian and Israeli leaders to discuss the push to negotiate a peace accord, which could lead to a Palestinian state one day. Rice said she assured Olmert of US support, but she also called for more attention to be paid to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. "We were all sorry about the death of the Israeli university student and affirmed to him (Olmert) that we will continue to state clearly that the rocket attacks against Israel need to stop," Rice said. "I again reiterated our concerns for the humanitarian circumstances there and the need to find a more durable solution to the question of the passages," she added, referring to the inability of everyday Palestinians to leave the Gaza Strip. Rice, asked whether she told Olmert not to use disproportionate force in Gaza, dismissed the question. "I think that's not a good way to address this issue," she said, then repeated her call for calm on both sides. "The issue is that the rocket attacks need to stop, there needs to be due concern for the humanitarian situation in Gaza, there needs to be a durable way to deal with crossing." In the end, Rice said that the only long-term solution is for Israel and the Palestinians to negotiate a peace deal to end the cycle of violence, although chances of that happening anytime soon appear to be diminishing despite President Bush's goal of reaching agreement by the time he leaves office. "The most important thing that can be done, of course, is to use the opportunity before the parties to have this vision of a Palestinian state become one that is concrete," Rice said. "That is what will ultimately give Palestinians and Israelis the confidence that they have a future of peace and security and not one of continuing conflict." Rice said Olmert confirmed his commitment to the "road map" peace plan and she said that Lt. Gen. William Fraser III, whom Bush appointed in January to monitor its progress, would travel to the region soon to discuss obligations of both the Israelis and Palestinians.