- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 16, 2005

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Mahmoud Abbas was sworn in as Palestinian president yesterday with a call for peace that was overshadowed by new fighting in Gaza and Israel’s decision to sever ties with him over a deadly attack by militants.

“Our hand is extended towards an Israeli partner for making peace,” said Mr. Abbas at the ceremony in the battered West Bank compound where his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, is buried. “We are seeking a mutual cease-fire to end this vicious circle.”

“Peace can only be achieved by working together to reach a permanent-status solution,” he said, restating his support for a U.S.-backed peace “road map” that calls initially for militants to be reined in, while Israel eases its occupation.

In the latest bloodshed, Israeli soldiers killed six Palestinians, including three militants, in the central Gaza Strip. Troops also shot to death two other Palestinians in the Rafah area of south Gaza.

A 15-year-old Israeli girl was critically wounded in an Israeli border town by a rocket attack, which Hamas said was launched in an “initial reaction” to Israel’s Gaza raids. A 3-year-old boy was also injured in a Jewish settlement in northern Gaza.

“The real question is what kind of message did Abbas’ words have for the various terrorist organizations,” said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s adviser, Dore Gold. “Clearly, they were insufficient.”

Mr. Abbas wants an end to more than four years of Palestinian armed struggle so talks with the Jewish state can resume. His election last Sunday has kindled new hopes for Middle East peace in the era after Mr. Arafat’s death on Nov. 11.

But Mr. Sharon, wary of Mr. Abbas’ aim of co-opting gunmen rather than cracking down on them, said Israel would sever ties after militants killed six Israelis in an attack on the Karni cargo terminal between Israel and Gaza on Thursday.

Mr. Abbas did not say in his speech how he planned to deal with the militants. Nor did he refer to Israel cutting contacts.

In a challenge to Mr. Abbas’ legitimacy, dozens of Palestinian election officials resigned yesterday, complaining of election dirty tricks that permitted Mr. Abbas to win by a landslide.

Those who quit said the shenanigans, such as orders forcing polls to stay open longer in an attempt to boost voter turnout, did not alter the outcome.

“Our resignation is a warning to the Palestinian Authority to take measures not to repeat what happened in the presidential elections in the legislative elections,” said official Baha Bakri, referring to a parliamentary vote planned for July.

Mr. Abbas has called for calm, but has been defied by militants, including some from his Fatah faction and Islamists bent on destroying Israel. They launched repeated rocket and mortar attacks as well as Thursday’s Karni border-crossing assault.

Palestinian officials said Mr. Abbas was expected to go to Gaza this week and meet with militant groups.

Israel shut all Gaza border crossings after the Karni attack, suspending movement of Palestinians and goods in and out of the occupied territory.

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