President Abbas sworn in, peace call clouded
"Our hand is extended toward an Israeli partner for making peace," said 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 troops killed six Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, including some gunmen.
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 Arafat's death on Nov 11.
But Israel, wary of Abbas's aim of co-opting gunmen rather than cracking down on them, cut off ties after militants killed six Israelis in an attack on the Karni cargo terminal between Israel and Gaza on Thursday.
Abbas did not say in his speech how he planned to deal with the militants. Nor did he refer to Israel cutting contacts.
"This is a wrong decision and shows that Israel is trying to find any excuse to disrupt any serious effort that leads to reviving the peace process and to achieving calm," Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie told Reuters.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Abbas had been widely expected to meet soon to discuss security coordination in the run-up to Israel's planned pullout from Gaza this year and the possibility of resuming talks on Palestinian statehood.
Prospects for an end to bloodshed appeared to brighten when Sharon called Abbas this week. Israel had shunned Arafat, accusing him of fomenting violence, though he always denied it.
Abbas, whose gray suits and neat mustache contrast with Arafat's army uniforms and stubbly chin, has called for calm.
On Saturday, Israeli troops killed six Palestinians, including some militants and two armed police, in the Gaza Strip. The army said some were trying to attack an Israeli force and the others were in a forbidden zone.
Israel shut all Gaza border crossings after the Karni attack, suspending movement of Palestinians and goods in and out of the occupied territory.
"We lose lives and this is a terrible thing, but the Palestinians are the ones who time and again lose the political and historic opportunity," said Israeli Vice-Premier Shimon Peres, a veteran peacemaker.
Palestinian officials said Abbas was expected to go to Gaza this week and meet militant groups.
Egyptian presidential spokesman Soleiman Awad said the world must realize that Abbas "does not possess a magic wand with which he can stop the violence overnight."
Abbas said there would soon be talks on reshuffling the government that he inherited from Arafat, though he is keeping Qurie as prime minister.
While halting violence is one challenge for Abbas, Palestinians and Western countries also demand internal reforms to sweep away corruption and mismanagement that paralyzed the Palestinian Authority in Arafat's last years.
Although international monitors pronounced last Sunday's elections fair, five senior officials resigned from the Palestinian election commission on Saturday, saying they were coerced into extending voting by Abbas's supporters.
The resignations could dent Abbas's claim to a popular mandate for peacemaking.