Mahmoud Abbas was sworn in as Palestinian Authority president on Saturday and started his job with two crises: Israel cut contacts with him until he reins in militants and 46 election officials resigned amid allegations of irregularities in the vote that brought Abbas to power.
In the Gaza Strip, seven Palestinians were killed by Israeli army fire in two separate incidents Saturday, two days after Palestinian militants killed six Israeli civilians at a Gaza cargo crossing. The renewed violence dampened expectations — that had been fanned by the election victory of the moderate Abbas — that the two sides could break out of their deadlock after more than four years of fighting.
In his inaugural speech in Ramallah, Abbas said he extends his hand in peace to Israel, called for a cease-fire and said he was committed to the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan.
However, he made no direct mention of how he would deal with the militants — the most pressing item on his agenda. Abbas only said he would enforce the rule of law and "deepen the dialogue" with various Palestinian factions, an apparent reference to his attempt to negotiate a cease-fire with militants.
Abbas did not refer to Israel's decision to suspend contacts until he takes action against the armed groups. Israel announced the boycott Friday, in response to the attack on the Gaza crossing, with one Israeli official saying the gunmen had apparently set out from a Palestinian Authority base.
Israeli officials welcomed Abbas' call to end violence, but said he must now translate that into action.
Secretary of State Colin Powell agreed, reports CBS News Correspondent Kimberly Dozier, saying it's up to the Palestinians to stop the violence.
But, former President Carter, who monitored the Palestinian election, told Dozier the White House can do more to kickstart progress on the Mideast peace roadmap it designed.
"I see the consummation of the road map proposal in the Mideast as one of the sterling opportunities for President Bush," Mr. Carter said.
"So," asked Dozier, "do you think it's time for the White House to step up to the plate and apply a little pressure?"
"Pressure is not a good word to use with the Israelis," Mr. Carter responded. "I found that out to my detriment when I was president. But influence, yes, encouragement, yes."
Abbas struck a largely conciliatory tone Saturday, saying Israelis and Palestinians are "destined to live side by side and to share this land." He condemned all violence, including the Gaza attack.
He called on Israel to halt military operations, including targeted killings of wanted Palestinians. "We are seeking a mutual cease-fire to end this cycle of violence," he said.
He said the Palestinians are ready to meet their obligations spelled out in the road map, and that Israel must do the same, including halting Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank and Gaza.
However, the road map also calls on the Palestinians to disarm militants, a step Abbas is unwilling to take. He has said he would try to persuade, but not coerce, the armed groups to halt attacks. After the Gaza crossing attack, Israel warned that Abbas is quickly running out of time.
In new violence Saturday, seven Palestinians were killed by Israeli army fire.
Near the Gaza-Egypt border, an Israeli tank fired shells and machine guns, killing two Palestinians and wounding 10. Among the injured were four children under the age of 16, two of them in critical condition, hospital officials said. The circumstances of the shooting were not immediately clear.
In Gaza City, Israeli troops moved into a neighborhood to stop what the army said was Palestinian rocket fire on the nearby Jewish settlement of Netzarim. Five Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire, witnesses said. The army said troops shot at militants who fired anti-tank rockets.
Later, a seven-year-old Israeli boy was seriously wounded when a mortar shell hit a house in Netzarim.
Militant groups sent mixed messages in reaction to Abbas' speech, saying they reserve the right to continue attacks, but also that they believe they can reach a deal with the new Palestinian leader. Members of militant groups have suggested that a truce is possible if Israel guarantees it will halt military operations.
"Regarding the issue of resistance, it will continue until the Israeli attacks come to an end and its army gets off our land," said a spokesman for the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a violent group with ties to Abbas' Fatah movement. The spokesman only gave his name as Abu Mohammed.
Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat said Abbas offered an olive branch to the Israelis. "I hope they will have listened carefully and they will reconsider their position and come back to the negotiating table," Erekat told reporters in Ramallah.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mark Regev, praised Abbas' call to end violence. "But of course Israel waits for that statement to be implemented as policy," Regev said. "We understand that he can't do everything on day one, but we hope he will start."
Abbas, meanwhile, suffered another blow when two top election officials resigned Saturday, over allegations of voting irregularities in the Jan. 9 presidential vote that brought Abbas to power.
The resignations of Ammar Dwaik and Baha al-Bakri, prompted 44 other officials, to quit.
The officials said they had been pressured by Abbas' campaign on election day to abruptly change voting procedures.
"These pressures and threats lessened the degree of the integrity of the election, even though overall it was free and fair," said Dwaik, the deputy chairman of the commission.
Dwaik and al-Bakri said they hoped the resignation would serve as a warning that such irregularities could easily be repeated in legislative elections in July. The officials said they did not believe the change in voting procedures significantly altered the outcome of the vote. Abbas won 62.3 percent of the votes.
During the presidential election, polls were to have stayed open for 12 hours, until 7 p.m. However, several hours after polls opened, turnout was relatively light, a cause of concern for Abbas, who was the front-runner but needed a decisive victory to win a mandate for peace talks with Israel.
During the meeting of the Central Election Commission that day, shots were fired at the panel's headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Election officials said at least one of the gunmen was a member of the Palestinian intelligence service. In the end, the commission decided to extend voting by two hours and to allow voters to cast their ballots in any location, not only in their hometowns.
The change enabled thousands of members of the security forces, most of them Abbas supporters, to cast ballots near their posts, rather than traveling to their hometowns.
"I was personally threatened and pressured," Dwaik said. "I am therefore announcing my resignation publicly, so that everyone knows that in the upcoming legislative election, this could happen again.