Swearing-in of new Israeli parliament marred by suicide bombing

Israel's new parliament was sworn in Monday during a solemn ceremony overshadowed by a Palestinian suicide bombing in Tel Aviv.

The bombing, which killed nine civilians, marred a normally festive occasion. Israeli leaders who addressed the session expressed sorrow for the bloodshed and urged the Palestinians' new Hamas-led government to halt the violence.

"I call on the Palestinians not to show weakness of spirit in the struggle for peace. We want to believe that the political path of the Hamas government is not the path of the Palestinians," said Israel's ceremonial president, Moshe Katsav.

Veteran lawmaker Shimon Peres, a Nobel peace laureate who chaired Monday's session, called the swearing-in ceremony a testament to the strength of the country's democracy.

The new parliament, or Knesset, chosen in March 28 elections, will have to wait for the formation of a coalition government before it begins work on legislative business, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's ambitious plan to withdraw from large chunks of the West Bank.

Olmert's Kadima party is the largest faction in the new parliament, with 29 out of 120 seats, but needs partners to establish a majority coalition. It currently is in negotiations with several parties, including the left-center Labor and the hawkish Israel Beiteinu. Negotiations are expected to continue several weeks.

Olmert is seeking to build a broad coalition that will support his plan to withdraw from much of the West Bank, uprooting dozens of Jewish settlements.

Olmert said he hopes to carry out the withdrawal as part of a deal with the Palestinians, but will move unilaterally if there is no partner on the other side. Hamas, which is sworn to Israel's destruction, has refused to renounce violence, making unilateral Israeli action likely, reports AP.

O.Ch.