Middle East conflict: Abbas is in an extremely difficult position

Mahmoud Abbas has been sworn in as Palestinian president, but his call for a ceasefire was overshadowed as Israel killed eight Palestinians in &to=http:// english.pravda.ru/hotspots/2002/04/25/28032.html ' target=_blank>Gaza and cut ties with him over a deadly militant attack.

"Our hand is extended towards an Israeli partner for making peace," Abbas said at his inauguration on Saturday in the battered West Bank compound where his predecessor &to=http:// english.pravda.ru/main/2002/09/24/37141.html ' target=_blank>Yasser Arafat is buried.

"We are seeking a mutual ceasefire to end this vicious circle," said Abbas, 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, reports swissinfo.

In his first speech as Yasser Arafat's successor, the new president did not refer directly to &to=http:// english.pravda.ru/world/2003/01/13/41963.html ' target=_blank>Mr Sharon's freeze on relations with the PA, ordered in response to the bomb and shooting attack that killed six Israelis on Thursday night at the Karni cargo crossing into Gaza.

According to the Independent, Israel claims that some Palestinian security personnel connived in the attacks, and says it will not resume contacts, which were to have included a meeting between Mr Sharon and Mr Abbas, until the President takes decisive steps to halt violence.

But in a reference to the Karni and other attacks by Gaza's militants, Mr Abbas, popularly known as Abu Mazen, declared: "We condemn these actions, whether by the Israeli occupation forces or the reactions of some Palestinian factions."

He is to visit Gaza this week and resume efforts to persuade the armed factions, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, to halt the attacks.

"This does not help bring about the calm needed to enable a credible, serious peace process," he said.

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