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Arafat calls for peace

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has denounced what he called Israeli aggression but called on his people to choose peace over confrontation.

He was speaking at the first full session of the Palestinian parliament since Israel blockaded Palestinian areas in the wake of escalating violence five months ago.

Arafat said the Palestinian uprising had showed "the people's will and determination ... to achieve national rights."

The Israeli army allowed Palestinian lawmakers located in the West Bank to cross Israeli territory to Gaza to attend their parliament session.

The formal handover of power by various parts of the Israeli government is shown by CNN's Fionnuala Sweeney (March 8)

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Excerpt from Sharon's speech presenting the new government (March 7)

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Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erakat reacts to Sharon's speech (March 7)

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Foreign Minister Shimon Peres tells CNN "bullets will not divide us"

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graphic Recent acts of violence in the Middle East:
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Sharon Timeline gallery: Ariel Sharon

Arafat told them: "The Palestinian people (should) take the peace option. This option is a strategic option ... a peace that provides stability to our region."

He added: "This peace can be achieved and be a real alternative to the daily killing imposed on us." Arafat also called on Israel's new administration to end the blockade of Palestinian territories and to end its escalation of military action - which he said was a collective punishment against the Palestinian people.

Arafat briefed the Palestinian cabinet Friday about messages he has exchanged with new Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon , a Cabinet communique said.

Sharon, a former general with a record of toughness towards the Palestinians, has said there can be no resumption of peace negotiations until Arafat halts the violence.

Intensified fighting came just two days after Sharon -- head of the Likud party -- was sworn in as the new Israeli leader.

Palestinian police said Saturday that they had found the body of a man killed by Israeli gunfire close to the border between Gaza and Israel.

The Israeli army reported an exchange of fire with Palestinian gunmen near the Jewish settlement of Netzarim in Gaza, but cited no casualties.

In the worst day of Israeli-Palestinian fighting since Sharon took office, 34 Palestinians were wounded in clashes with Israeli soldiers on Friday near the West Bank town of Ramallah, the Palestine Red Crescent Society said.

Three were critically wounded, according to hospital officials.

The Palestinians were wounded as they tried to reopen a road near Ramallah where the Israeli army had dug trenches.

The trenches, which cut off Palestinian villages, are part of what Israelis call security operations but Palestinians regard as a collective punishment.

Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer came under sniper fire on Friday while touring an Israeli observation point in Gaza but was not harmed.

Also on Friday, more than 15,000 Palestinians demonstrated in the West Bank town of Tulkarem, calling for more suicide attacks against Israeli targets.

They marched to a nearby refugee camp, the home of Ahmed Aliyan, who killed himself and three Israelis when he detonated a bomb in the Israeli town of Netanya on Sunday.

"The suicide operations will continue," a banner read. The protest was organized by the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas, which threatened to unleash 10 suicide bombers after Sharon took power.

Many Palestinians regard Sharon and the Likud party as hawkish toward the Palestinian peace process.

Sharon, 73, decisively defeated Ehud Barak as prime minister a month ago. The centerpiece of Sharon's campaign was a promise to resume peacemaking after stamping out violence.

Sharon heads an eight-party coalition government -- including Barak's Labor Party, his own Likud movement and the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party.

More than 465 people have been killed in clashes, ambushes, bombings and shellings since September 28, the day Sharon visited the Temple Mount -- Haram al-Sharif to Muslims -- a site hosting both Judaism's holiest site and a pair of equally sacred Islamic mosques.

Israeli-Palestinian clashes intensify
March 9, 2001
Sharon: Violence must stop before meeting Arafat
March 8, 2001
Bomb kills 4 in Israeli resort
March 4, 2001
Israeli forces kill Gazan Palestinian
March 2, 2001

Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Israeli Prime Minister's Office
Israel Defense Forces
Palestinian National Authority

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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