TOKYO (AFP) — US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Thursday at a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for an end to Palestinian rocket attacks against the Jewish state.
"The issue is that the rocket attacks need to stop," Rice said after a flare-up in violence, while adding that "there needs to be due concern for the innocent people and the humanitarian situation in Gaza."
An Israeli man was killed Wednesday by a rocket fired on southern Israel from the Gaza Strip. Separately, 11 Palestinians, including a six-month-old baby, were killed as Israel attacked the Gaza Strip.
Hamas claimed responsibility for what was the first death of an Israeli by Gaza rocket fire since May 2007 -- before the Islamist movement seized power there in June -- and said it had been to avenge the death of its militants.
Rice, who heads to the Middle East next week, said she had discussed the situation with Olmert in a meeting arranged as both were visiting Tokyo.
"I said once again to the prime minister, 'We were all sorry about the death of the Israeli university student,'" Rice told reporters, "and affirmed to him that we will continue to state clearly that the rocket attacks against Israel need to stop."
The State Department said Wednesday that Rice would visit Israel and the Palestinian territories, as well as attend a NATO meeting in Brussels, from March 3 to 7 amid stepped-up US diplomacy in the Middle East.
US President George W. Bush hosted a summit in November in Annapolis, near Washington, breaking a seven-year gap in high-level negotiations. That meeting set a target for Israelis and Palestinians to reach a two-state settlement by the end of 2008.
Rice said she spent time with Olmert "talking about the roadmap obligations" as the meeting was "a good chance to review where we are."
She added she expected more extensive discussions during her Israel trip.
Rice praised the "remarkable commitment" of Olmert and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, a Hamas opponent, as they tried "to move forward on Annapolis despite considerable difficulties."
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