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Ahmed Aboul Gheit wants Israelis and Palestinians to halt violence

Egypt's foreign minister called both Israelis and Palestinians to end the recent cycle of violence that has left dead and wounded on both sides.

Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit's comments were released following his meeting in Cairo with a senior official from the moderate Palestinian Fatah group to discuss the security situation in the Palestinian territories.

In the statement, Aboul Gheit called Israel's use of force "excessive" and "demanded the Israeli side immediately halt all of its military operations in the Gaza Strip."

He also emphasized "the necessity of stopping the launching of Palestinian rockets," calling them "a pretext for Israeli troops to carry out more military operations."

In the past two weeks, the militant Palestinian group Hamas launched more than 250 so-called Qassam rockets, with a range of about 10 kilometers (6 miles), many slamming into the border town of Sderot. Two Israeli civilians were killed in Sderot, and several thousand of its 24,000 residents have fled.

In response, Israeli warplanes pummeled Hamas targets, including training bases and rocket squads, with dozens of missile strikes, which have killed some 50 Palestinians, most of them militants.

Aboul Gheit also discussed recent fighting between Fatah and Hamas when he met with Deputy Prime Minister Azzam al-Ahmed, the statement said.

The foreign minister said "Palestinian infighting only benefits the Israeli side and supports its pretext that there is no negotiation partner."

Fatah and Hamas reached a truce a little over a week ago to stem fierce factional fighting that killed more than 50 Palestinians, but tension between the two groups remains high.

In comments to reporters following his meeting with Aboul Gheit, al-Ahmed agreed that "Palestinian-Palestinian fighting has a negative impact." But he added that "the stagnation in the peace process is not due to Palestinian local events, but these events are used by Israel and the United States to justify not moving the peace process."

Al-Ahmed also met with Egyptian security chief Omar Suleiman to discuss "ways to keep the cease fire and halt fighting among the Palestinians," he said.

Relations between the two Palestinian factions have been tense ever since Hamas won a majority in the 2006 legislative elections. The two groups agreed to form a national unity government in February, but clashes have continued.

Members of Hamas are expected to arrive in Cairo in the next few days for similar talks with Egypt, a regional heavyweight and top U.S. ally that has been working to reconcile the Palestinian groups.

Nabil Abu Rdeneh, spokesman for moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said Monday on Al-Arabiya television that "no agreement has been reached among the Palestinian factions or with Israel, which is alarming as it means more fighting and assassinations."

Aboul Gheit also met Monday with Michael C. Williams, the new U.N. Middle East envoy and "urged the necessity of achieving solid progress in peace in the Middle East as the only guarantee of stopping violence and escalation among Palestinians and Israelis," according to a second foreign ministry statement.

Williams, who met with several Arab officials while in Cairo, expressed his support for Egypt's role in mediating between Fatah and Hamas.

"We welcome Egypt's efforts to regain stability in Gaza, which is of absolute importance," he told reporters Monday after meeting with Arab League chief Amr Moussa.