Sun, Jan 09, 2005 - Page 1 News List

On the eve of today's poll, Abbas talks of a ceasefire

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

The favorite to win the Palestinian presidential election, Mahmoud Abbas, on Friday called for an end to "the chaos of guns" in Palestinian society and expressed optimism that a ceasefire in the four-year uprising will be agreed by all factions.

Abbas, a moderate who is opposed to violence, was speaking at a press conference in Ramallah to mark the end of the election campaign. The candidates would not be out yesterday and the Palestinians go to the polls today.

The fight against Israel has been led by the al-Aqsa Brigades, an offshoot of Abbas' Fatah group, and the two Islamist militant groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad, who are boycotting the election, have ignored his calls to end the violence and have kept up attacks on Israel throughout the campaign.

An Israeli soldier was killed yesterday near Nablus by the al-Aqsa Brigades, suggesting Abbas will have trouble reining in even his own faction.

Abbas said on Friday that he had spoken to gunmen all round the West Bank and Gaza during the campaign who had promised to obey him.

"All the Palestinian factions are ready to accept the ceasefire. There are not many differences between us. I am optimistic there will be an agreement or precursor to entering peace negotiations," he said.

Abbas said he wanted to create a democracy similar to Israel and said Israel's pluralism, with its 32 parties, was the kind of model he wanted to emulate. Abbas said he would return Ahmed Qureia, the current prime minister, if he wins.

His statesmanlike tone contrasted on Friday with the antics of Mustapha Barghouti, his main rival, who ended up in police custody.

Barghouti, who as a resident of the West Bank needs an Israeli permit to visit Jerusalem, took a taxi through Palestinian east Jerusalem, to the walls of the Old City.

In theory, Palestinians in east Jerusalem have as much right to vote as those in the West Bank and Gaza. But Israel claims sovereignty over east and west Jerusalem.

Barghouti was stopped outside the Lion's Gate, one of the main entrances to the Old City and the al-Aqsa mosque, by Israeli security men.

As he was being bungled into a car, Barghouti shouted: "I am coming here to pray in the mosque and now you are arresting me. You are arresting a presidential candidate with a permit to be in Jerusalem."

He was taken to the police station at the Russian compound in west Jerusalem and from there to a checkpoint at the West Bank, where he was expelled.

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