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Palestinians 'Ready For Peace'

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said Monday that the Palestinians are "ready for peace" with Israel.

Abbas, speaking a day after his election as Palestinian president, said he is eager to resume peace talks with Israel.

"We extend our hands to our neighbors," he said. "We are ready for peace, peace based on justice. We hope that their response will be positive."

He called for a resumption of peace talks based on the internationally backed "road map" peace plan.

In other developments:

  • Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Monday presented, and won parliamentary approval for, his new center-left government, with a solid majority in favor of his Gaza pullout plan. The new government includes the moderate Labor Party, with its leader, Shimon Peres, as Sharon's second vice premier, alongside Ehud Olmert of Sharon's Likud Party. With the new coalition partners, which also includes an ultra-Orthodox party, Sharon is ensured a parliamentary majority for the pullback.
  • Sharon plans to meet with Abbas soon, the Israeli leader's aides said.
  • President Bush said Monday he would welcome newly Abbas to the White House. "I look forward to talking with him at the appropriate time. I look forward to welcoming him here to Washington if he chooses to come here," Mr. Bush said. That's an offer never made to the late Yasser Arafat, who Mr. Bush did not regard as committed to peace, reports CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller. But responding to reporters questions, the president said it's essential that the Palestinian leadership fight off those of its people who still want to destroy Israel.
  • Hundreds of Palestinian students Monday attended a rally organized by Hamas at Bir Zeit University, where they called for more suicide attacks against Israel. The Hamas rally was seen as a show of strength in the wake of Abbas's victory and a reminder of the tough challenges he faces from the Islamic group and its allies.
  • Israel has asked Egypt to prevent its planes from entering Israeli air space near the Red Sea resort port of Eilat, officials said, warning that if a Sept. 11-style attack is suspected, an intruding plane might be shot down. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the usual flight paths of Egyptian planes heading for Jordan cross near Eilat, but often the planes deviate from the route and enter Israeli air space. Eilat has a row of high-rise hotels.

    Abbas won 62.3 percent of the vote, according to final results announced by Hanna Nasser, head of the Central Election Commission.

    His main challenger, independent Mustafa Barghouti, won 19.8 percent, while the remaining five candidates scored in the lower single digits. About 3.8 percent of the ballots were deemed invalid, and 3.2 percent were blank, Nasser told a news conference.

    Israeli leaders welcomed Abbas' victory, but said they will watch closely how hard he tries to subdue militants. Palestinians celebrated the results.

    "Today is the beginning of a new future," said Sami Radwan, 55, a restaurant owner in Gaza City. "Abu Mazen [Abbas] is the right choice. He is the one who can bring us peace, good business and security."

    Palestinians say Israel must do its part to improve living conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, or else militants will continue their attacks.

    "As long as they see the continuous expansion of settlements, the continuous expansion of this occupation, they will continue resisting this occupation," Palestinian Ghassan Khatib said.

    Israeli security forces in Jerusalem were on high alert, reports CBS News Correspondent Howard Arenstein, with troops and police sweeping the area in search of a suicide bomber.

    Abbas could easily lose his political capital over a major bombing or shooting attack, and while most militant groups signaled they are willing to give him a chance, not all have signed on to a truce with Israel.

    Still, Abbas' victory in Sunday's vote held out the promise of a new era after four decades of chaotic and corruption-riddled rule by Yasser Arafat, who died Nov. 11. Abbas, who has spoken out against violence and has the support of the international community, promises to reform the government and the unwieldy security services.

    Questions about voter participation are a possible point of contention between Abbas' Fatah movement, which was pushing for a high turnout, and the Islamic militant group Hamas, which had called for a boycott.

    In his acceptance speech Sunday, Abbas said he faces a difficult mission, but he reiterated that he would not go after militants. Instead, he said, he wants to "give our fugitives a life of dignity," referring to those wanted by Israel.

    "I present this victory to the soul of Yasser Arafat and present it to our people and to our martyrs," Abbas added.

    After exit polls predicted a sweeping Abbas victory, cheering supporters took to the streets of the West Bank and Gaza late Sunday. Gunmen fired in the air, motorists honked horns and members of Abbas' ruling Fatah movement, wearing checkered black-and-white headbands, danced in the streets.

    Hamas, the largest opposition group, announced Monday it will work with Abbas, despite misgivings about what it said were voting irregularities, including a decision to keep polls open two hours longer than planned. Hamas had called for a boycott of the election, but did not try to disrupt the vote.

    "This opens up an opportunity, in my opinion, for renewed peace negotiations, as well as justice, long overdue for the Palestinian people," said former president Jimmy Carter, who led the international monitoring team.

    Carter hopes the election leads to two sovereign nations, "hopefully ultimately becoming friends living completely at peace. That's my dream and my hope and my prayers."

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