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Hopes for peace rise as Abbas wins votes
Updated: 2005-01-11 00:19

The overwhelming victory of Mahmoud Abbas in the Palestinian election to choose Yasser Arafat's successor raised hopes for peace yesterday after years of bloodshed.

Palestinian presidential candidate Mahmoud Abbas celebrates after the close of voting in the West Bank city of Ramallah January 9, 2005. [Reuters]
The Palestinian Central Elections Committee announced yesterday afternoon that PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas won Sunday's presidential elections by gaining 62.32 per cent of the votes.

"There are difficult missions waiting for us on how to build our state and how to find dignity for our people and our militants," said Abbas.

Abbas, 69, also known as Abu Mazen, was the candidate of the mainstream Fatah movement and chief of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee.

Some 70 per cent of the 1.8 million eligible voters in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem turned out for the election, the first of its kind since 1996, when Arafat was elected the PNA chairman.

Turnout looked healthy despite a boycott call by Islamic militants, strengthening Abbas' mandate for change after Arafat's death at the age of 75 on November 11.

Abbas is due to be sworn in today, officials said. The closest of six other candidates was Mustafa Barghouthi with 19.8 per cent of the vote.

Hopes and hardship

Most of those who voted for Abbas said they voted for him for what he promised the Palestinians and what he would do in the coming short and long terms.

They hope their new leader would be able to improve their lives, socially, economically and politically.

However, they admitted that there were many difficulties and challenges waiting for him.

"He has to practise reforms, end chaos, impose law and discipline, and of course he will face troubles and will be accused by some Palestinians of being against them," said Amjad Lozzon, 32, from Gaza.

"I really pray for him that God supports him for the next difficult period he will face," said Lozzon.

One of the major challenges Abbas would face is the continuation of attacks carried out by Palestinian militants against Israel and Jewish settlements. He has to know how to deal with the Israeli justifications to assassinate militants and destroy houses, said local analysts.

Mahmoud Khalifa, a Palestinian researcher, said daily military incursions and air strikes by Israel to assassinate militants would shatter the Palestinian people's hope.

Both Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) and Jihad Movement (Holy War), who boycotted the election, announced yesterday that they would deal with the newly elected Palestinian leader.

"If Palestinian militants get back to escalate their armed attacks against Israel and if Israel gets back to use its policy of incursions, destruction and assassinations, then it would be like people were having a sweet dream but then wake up to face the Israeli reality," said Khalifa.

Jimmy Carter, former US president and head of the international observers including a group from China, yesterday said Abbas' winning will open the way for a possible revival of the Middle peace process.

"Abbas' election as the new Palestinian leader is a step on the road to help the Palestinians live in peace with the Israelis as friends and neighbours," he said.

Veteran Israeli peacemaker Shimon Peres told Israeli Army Radio yesterday: "A moderate man was elected, an intelligent man, an experienced man. Let's give him a chance."

In another sign of change in the Middle East, a new Israeli Government led by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon but with Peres' centre-left Labour Party a main partner, was expected to take office later in the day.

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