Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi Tuesday denounced Hamas militants for breaking a cease-fire with Israel, but Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the truce violation was an exceptional act.  Mr. Abbas, who stopped in Rome on his tour of Europe, said there could be no more attacks between Israelis and Palestinians or else there could be no peace negotiations. Sabina Castelfranco reports for VOA from Rome.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi agreed on the need for a truce to be in place if negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians are to go ahead.

Mr. Abbas said there was no other choice, but peace and that is why a cease-fire had been agreed.

He added that when a violation occurs, serious efforts must be made to control the situation and ensure that the recent attacks do not occur again.

The Islamic group Hamas acknowledged Tuesday that it had fired rockets and mortar shells at Israel. It said a five-month truce with Israel has ended after Israeli troops killed nine Palestinians over the weekend, most of them militants.

Prime Minister Romano Prodi firmly condemned the violation of the cease-fire.

While he expressed concern over the attacks, Mr. Prodi said there was no need to trade accusations on who was responsible for the truce violation. He said this incident is to be considered isolated and the violence must cease, otherwise it is absolutely useless to talk about a peace process. 

Mr. Abbas traveled to Rome as part of a seven-nation tour to persuade European countries to end economic sanctions on the Palestinian government.

Direct financial aid to the Palestinian Authority was frozen after Hamas swept to power in January 2006 elections, but Abbas has argued the cutoff should be lifted, because a new unity government includes members of his more moderate Fatah party.

Mr. Prodi assured that Italy would do its part to continue to assist the Palestinians.

In a joint press conference, the Palestinian president also said that Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, kidnapped by armed Palestinian groups last June, was in good health and that efforts continue to get him released.

Mr. Abbas also held a private audience with Pope Benedict at the Vatican. It was his second meeting with the pontiff.

Following the meeting, the Vatican issued a written statement making no mention of the Hamas development, but praising recent moves to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. The statement said the Vatican appreciated the efforts and the help that the international community was providing.