Abbas calls for an end to armed fight


JERUSALEM - Mahmoud Abbas, the interim Palestinian leader, said in an interview published yesterday that the armed struggle against Israel was a mistake and should end.

Abbas, favored to become president of the Palestinian Authority in elections next month, also said it was time to rein in a hodgepodge of rival Palestinian security forces and halt what he called a climate of lawlessness.

Abbas criticized the armed intifada, or uprising, while he was prime minister briefly in 2003, saying the violence hurt Palestinians more than it helped. But the latest remarks, published in the London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq al Awsat, were his most concrete on the subject since he took over as chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization after Yasser Arafat's death last month.

Abbas said it was necessary to "keep the intifada away from weapons because the intifada is the legitimate right of the people to express its rejection of the occupation through social and popular means."

He added, "The use of weapons has been harmful and should stop."

On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon criticized the new Palestinian leadership, saying it wasn't doing enough to halt attacks by militants.

Abbas was roundly criticized at home when he spoke out last year against the use of arms. But public opinion has shifted somewhat in recent months. A poll last week found support among Palestinians for armed attacks against civilians inside Israel fell to 49 percent from 54 percent in September. Some militants have come out in favor of Abbas for president.

His comments came amid fresh violence in the Gaza Strip, the site of an attack Sunday by militants on an Israeli army outpost that left five soldiers dead and six others wounded.

In the newest outbreak, militants fired four mortar rounds into a Jewish settlement in the southern Gaza Strip, killing a farm worker and injuring two.

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