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IN THE NEWS - Middle East Peace Prospects

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I'm Steve Ember with In the News in VOA Special English.

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A Palestinian attack on Israelis at a border crossing has added to the pressures Mahmoud Abbas will face in his new job. The attack came two days before the swearing-in ceremony for the next president of the Palestinian Authority.

A truck bomb exploded Thursday at the Karni crossing between Israel and Gaza. Then gunmen killed six Israeli civilians and seriously wounded five others. Three groups took responsibility: Hamas, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and the Popular Resistance Committees.

Later, Israeli helicopters raided a target in Gaza linked to militants. Goods enter Gaza through the Karni crossing. After the militant attack, Israel closed all border crossings with Gaza.

On Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered that all communication with the Palestinian Authority be cut. He said communications would stop until the new Palestinian President controls militants and halts attacks. The announcement came hours before Mahmoud Abbas was to be sworn-in.

Yasser Arafat was Palestinian Authority president until his death in November. Israel and the United States had refused to negotiate with him as attacks against Israel continued.

The peace plan known as the road map calls for Israel and the Palestinians to take steps toward an independent Palestine. The plan is meant to end more than four years of most recent violence.

World leaders say the election Sunday of Mister Abbas offers new possibilities for peace. He received sixty-two percent of the vote. He defeated independent candidate Mustafa Barghouti and five others.

The Israeli Prime Minister congratulated Mister Abbas. Both sides expressed support for a meeting, but did not set a date. President Bush said he would welcome the new Palestinian leader to Washington if he wants to come.

Israeli lawmakers this week narrowly approved a new government. Most cabinet members support the plan by Israel to withdraw from Gaza and part of the West Bank this year.

Mister Abbas has said attacks against Israel make life harder for Palestinians. He also says he would not use force against militants, but would try to negotiate a truce.

A Hamas official told the Associated Press that Egypt has renewed a proposal for a one-year suspension of attacks. Hamas boycotted the presidential election, but may join legislative elections in July.

After the Karni attack, Reuters news agency reported that several thousand marchers celebrated in the Jabalya refugee camp in Gaza.

But the head of a Palestinian research group says the majority of people, especially in Gaza, support Mister Abbas. Mahdi Abdel Hadi says the people are tired of violence. In his words, "They are looking for this small window of fresh air and warm sun to come through the Palestinian election."

In the News in VOA Special English was written by Jerilyn Watson. I'm Steve Ember.

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