Abbas urges cease-fire at inaugural
Election officials resigned over irregularities in Palestinian election.
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) -- Mahmoud Abbas extended his hand in peace to Israel as he was sworn in as the new Palestinian leader Saturday, but the Israeli army killed eight Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and 46 election officials resigned over alleged ballot irregularities, crushing optimism for an early resumption of the peace process.
The series of events came only a day after Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, reversing course, cut all ties with Abbas until he reined in Palestinian militants who killed six Israelis during an attack at a Gaza cargo crossing last week.
The resignations of the election officials appeared an attempt to reduce the legitimacy of Abbas' landslide victory in the Jan. 9 vote to replace Yasser Arafat, who died in November.
In his inaugural speech, Abbas condemned violence, urged an immediate cease-fire and said he was extending Israel his hand in peace.
Officials in Sharon's office called the speech disappointing, saying it did not outline how Abbas planned to end attacks on Israel.
Abbas made only a vague mention of how he would deal with the violent groups that are dampening the optimism for peace that sprang up after Arafat died. Many wondered whether the window of opportunity created by Arafat's passing was already beginning to close.
Despite the rough start, however, Abbas made a direct appeal to the Israeli people, telling them, "We are two peoples destined to live side by side."
Abbas placed his hand on the Quran during a brief swearing-in ceremony before several hundred dignitaries at Ramallah's shell-scarred Muqata building, where Arafat spent his last years as a virtual prisoner.
Abbas promised to be faithful to the Palestinian dream of establishing a state and demanded an end to the Israeli occupation, the assassinations of militants and the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
At the same time, he condemned violence by both sides, saying it "does not help bring about the calm needed to enable a credible, serious peace process."
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