01/15/2005, 00.00
PALESTINE – ISRAEL
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New administration, old fears

The new president of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, is sworn in today.  Israel halts contacts at every level after the Gaza attack.

Ramallah (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Today at noon (GMT +2), the new president of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), Mahmoud Abbas (aka Abu Mazen), is officially sworn in before the Palestinian Legislative Council.

The new administration is not starting its mandate—as it was hoped after the death of Yasser Arafat—under the sign of renewed dialogue with Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has ordered severing all contacts with the PNA following the suicide attack two days ago in the Gaza Strip in which six Israelis were killed.

In so doing Sharon is sending a tough message to President Mahmoud Abbas—there will be no contact at any level until the PNA does not show its willingness to neutralise dissident Palestinian armed groups.

Sharon's spokesperson, Assaf Shariv, added that Abbas "knows who carried out the attack, so he will be the one to stop them."

The Israeli Prime Minister said he had no intention of meeting the Palestinian President so long as he did not investigate the Karni cargo terminal attack.

Israel's response is largely informed by the conclusions its secret services reached that the attack could not have happened without the prior knowledge of Palestinian security officials deployed at the Karni crossing.

Mr Abbas condemned the attack as well as last week Israeli raid in Gaza. "This operation and Israel's operations, which killed nine Palestinians this past week, do not contribute to the peace process," he told reporters yesterday.

In Deir al-Hatab, on the West Bank, more than 2,000 Hamas supporters rallied in favour of continued armed resistance after the Friday prayers asserting that this was the only possible opposition to Israeli occupation.

At the same time however Hassan Yousef, a top Hamas leader in the West Bank, said that his group was prepared to suspend the attacks and negotiate with Mahmoud Abbas.

On the eve of the January 9 election, Hamas had stated that "irrespective of the result we are ready to collaborate with whoever is elected president".

Some political analysts argue that there is an ongoing power struggle among Palestinian groups vying for the new leader's 'sympathy' in order to secure better positions within the soon-to-be-reformed security apparatus.

Immediately after Abbas's election, Sharon said he was prepared to meet the Palestinian leader. The two were supposed to discuss renewing peace talks and coordinating security in preparation for Israel's pullout from the Gaza Strip scheduled to start in June.

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