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Abbas Calls for Peace Talks After Poll
ERUSALEM, 7 January 2005 — PLO leader and top contender Mahmoud Abbas yesterday called for peace talks with Israel after the Jan.9 Palestinian presidential election, a sharp contrast to days of hard-line campaign pronouncements that included his labeling Israel the “Zionist enemy.”
Abbas changed his harsh tone from four days of campaigning in Gaza in an unlikely place — the West Bank city of Nablus, a stronghold of fighters and semi-autonomous armed groups that rule refugee camps and neighborhoods and score points with bloody attacks against Israelis.
At a news conference during a campaign swing through the city, Abbas said he would welcome peace talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon — vilified by many Palestinians because of harsh Israeli measures during the current conflict.
“After the elections, we will start negotiations,” Abbas said. “Ariel Sharon is an elected leader and we will negotiate with him. We will put the road map on the table and say that we are ready to implement it completely.”
The internationally backed road map, which envisions an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, was presented in June2003 .
Fighters appeared ready to give Abbas a chance. Ala Sanakra, a local leader of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, an offshoot of Abbas’ Fatah movement, said Abbas wants to negotiate a cease-fire with Israel. Sanakra said his fighters would go along if Israel stops its military activity.
During the campaign, Abbas,69 , has worked hard to expand his constituency, trying to attract younger, more militant Palestinians with hard-line statements identifying with gunmen and backing the right of all Palestinian refugees and their descendants — about 4 million people — to return to the homes they lost in the1948 - 49war after Israel’s creation.
Such stands are anathema to Israel, which demands implementation of the road map provision to eliminate the groups responsible for attacks against Israelis and rejects the “right of return” as an attempt to undermine the Jewish state.