Mahmoud Abbas was sworn in as Palestinian Authority president yesterday and started his job with two crises: Israel cut contacts with him until he reins in militants and two top election officials resigned amid allegations of irregularities in the vote that brought Abbas to power.
In the Gaza Strip, six Palestinians were killed by Israeli army fire in two separate incidents yesterday, two days after Palestinian militants killed six Israeli civilians at a Gaza cargo crossing. The renewed violence dampened expectations -- that had been fanned by the election victory of the moderate Abbas -- that the two sides could break out of their deadlock after more than four years of fighting.
In his inaugural speech in Ramallah, Abbas said he extends his hand in peace to Israel, called for a cease-fire and said he was committed to the US-backed "road map" peace plan.
However, he made no direct mention of how he would deal with the militants -- the most pressing item on his agenda. Abbas only said he would enforce the rule of law and "deepen the dialogue" with various Palestinian factions, an apparent reference to his attempt to negotiate with militants.
Abbas did not refer to Israel's decision to suspend contacts until he takes action against the armed groups. Israel announced the boycott Friday, in response to the attack on the Gaza crossing, with one Israeli official saying the gunmen had apparently set out from a Palestinian Authority base.
Israeli officials welcomed Abbas' call to end violence, but said he must now translate that into action.
Abbas struck a largely conciliatory tone yesterday, saying Israelis and Palestinians are "destined to live side by side and to share this land." He condemned all violence, including the Gaza attack.
He called on Israel to halt military operations, including targeted killings of wanted Palestinians.
"We are seeking a mutual cease-fire to end this cycle of violence," he said.
He said the Palestinians are ready to meet their obligations spelled out in the road map, and that Israel must do the same, including halting Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank and Gaza.
However, the road map also calls on the Palestinians to disarm militants, a step Abbas is unwilling to take. He has said he would try to persuade, but not coerce, the armed groups to halt attacks. After the Gaza crossing attack, Israel warned that Abbas is quickly running out of time.
In new violence yesterday, six Palestinians were killed by Israeli army fire.
Near the Gaza-Egypt border, an Israeli tank fired shells and machine guns, killing two Palestinians and wounding 10. Among the injured were four children under the age of 16, two of them in critical condition, hospital officials said. The circumstances of the shooting were not immediately clear.
In Gaza City, Israeli troops moved into a neighborhood to stop what the army said was Palestinian rocket fire on the nearby Jewish settlement of Netzarim. Four Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire, witnesses said. The army said troops shot at militants who fired anti-tank rockets.
Militant groups sent mixed messages in reaction to Abbas' speech, saying they reserve the right to continue attacks, but also that they believe they can reach a deal with the new Palestinian leader. Members of militant groups have suggested that a truce is possible if Israel guarantees it will halt military operations.