Interim Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said Friday that if he wins Sunday's election for the head of the Palestinian Authority, he will ask Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia to stay on in his post. Palestinian gunmen opened fire on a group of Israelis soldiers in the West Bank on Friday, killing one and wounding three, a day after militant leaders in the area told Palestinian presidential candidate Mahmoud Abbas they were ready to abide by a cease-fire.
Abbas, the overwhelming front-runner in the race, also said he was committed to unifying the various Palestinian security services, a key Israeli demand to move forward with the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan.
"We believe that the unification of security services is necessary," he said.
Abbas promised to tackle illegal weapons, though he declined to call for a crack down on militant groups — another Israeli demand.
"When I see you in the street carrying a handgun or a machine gun I want to ask if this machine gun is legitimate, if it is licensed." he said. "If it is not, you will be punished according to the law."
"There is no justification for this operation, but there are a lot of reasons behind it," Abbas said.
Abbas' press conference was the last official campaign event before presidential elections on Sunday. Public opinion polls gave him an overwhelming lead over his closest rival.
In other developments:
The attack by militants from the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a violent offshoot of Abbas' own Fatah movement, cast doubt on Abbas ability to prevent militant violence, a key Israeli demand to move forward with the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan.
Friday, Israeli forces shot and killed a 23-year-old Palestinian walking near the Gaza settlement of Netzarim, Palestinian security officials said. The Israeli army said the man was armed with an anti-tank missile and was suspected of planning an attack.
Also Friday, Abbas canceled a visit to Jerusalem and Israeli authorities expelled a second candidate who tried to pray at a holy site in the city.
Abbas had been tentatively scheduled to travel to Jerusalem to pray at al-Aqsa mosque, hold a rally and tour the Old City. A senior official with his campaign said Israel wanted to give Abbas a large security detail to protect him from Jewish extremists. Abbas decided that being surrounded by Israeli security would have been embarrassing, the official said.
On Thursday, Abbas met with militants in Nablus, including Al Aqsa officials, and said afterward they were ready to support his cease-fire efforts. One Al Aqsa leader at the meeting, Ala Sanakra, said the group halted attacks in the West Bank weeks ago as a gesture to Abbas and would continue to refrain from attacks after the election.
Mustafa Barghouti, who is running a distant second to Abbas, was detained by police as he tried to enter the Old City to pray at al-Aqsa. After an hour of questioning, he was released at a West Bank checkpoint. It was the second time Jerusalem police arrested Barghouti, who lives in the West Bank, during the campaign.
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