11/20/2004, 00.00
PALESTINE - ISRAEL
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We shall stop those who engage in violence in order to hold peaceful elections, Abu Mazen says

Palestinian Christian lawmaker Hanan Ashrawi says integrity of Palestinian Christians' identity must be protected.

Ramallah (AsiaNews) – The new chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation Mahmoud Abbas (aka Abu Mazen) vowed to crack down on armed groups operating in Palestinian areas in order to smooth the way for a January 9 presidential election to find a successor to Yasser Arafat. "We have to move on to a new era," he said and "we will act firmly against anyone who violates the law so that we can make the citizens feel secure."

Mr Abbas also urged Israel to halt "aggressive" military action in the West Bank and Gaza to help him restore order before the January 9 vote.

In the last few days, he has held talks with militant factions that have so far produced no agreement on suspending suicide bombings and other attacks on Israelis. Hamas, Fatah and Islamic Jihad did give verbal assurances that they would work to restore internal order. Never the less, Mr Abbas's leeway is still restricted by some militants' accusations that he is a stooge of Israel for opposing the violence of the second intifada.

Speaking to AsiaNews about the post-Arafat era, Christian lawmaker Hanan Ashrawi said: "We are trying to fill the void left by the disappearance of a symbol like Arafat with political institutions and the rule of law". Although the "current situation is critical with factions vying for power", Ms Ashrawi said she was confident that there was a "widespread desire in the Palestinian body politic to build a democratic framework". More importantly, once elected on January 9, the new Palestinian leader will be under the scrutiny of public opinion and judged based "on his performance".

With regards to Israel, she rejects the use of terrorism. "We must," she said, "take the political road in order to achieve a peaceful solution to the conflict based on negotiations in accordance with international law and justice."

Speaking about the status of Palestinian Christians, who are increasingly marginalised by the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism and affected by a high emigration rate, Ms Ashrawi said "Palestinian Christians are the oldest Christians in the world and their identity must be protected in Palestinian society." (SQ - LF)

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