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Carter: Palestinian leaders support peace plan


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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Former President Jimmy Carter said Monday that the new Palestinian Authority leadership has expressed support for the U.S.-backed Middle East peace plan, but that Israel still had concerns.

Carter was in the Middle East to monitor Sunday's presidential election to replace President Yasser Arafat, who died in November.

Palestinian election officials officially declared former Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas the winner on Monday. (Full story)

Carter, told CNN that Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, and Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei had both told him within the past two days that they wholly accept the terms of the road map, a plan put together by the so-called international quartet and endorsed by President Bush.

"At this moment, if the internationally approved road map -- which has been adopted by President Bush -- is the basis for a future peace, then President Bush and Abu Mazen are in complete concert. They are in agreement," Carter said.

Carter said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has stated 14 major reservations about the road map.

"The one who is opposing the major principals of the road map -- including the withdrawal of the settlements from the West Bank or most of them -- is the prime minister of Israel."

The former U.S. president said, with regard to Sharon's position, "I don't know that he would change that position except under the influence, I wouldn't say pressure, from the United States... There are going to be difficult decisions made."

The first of those, said Carter, is Israel's promised withdrawal from Gaza, which he said will be "very significant, very difficult."

Carter said Sharon told him he hoped to meet with Abbas "within days" after the election.

The road map calls for the Palestinian Authority to end attacks on Israel and for Israel to freeze settlement activities as a prelude to renewed peace negotiations.

The plan is sponsored by the so-called Mideast Quartet of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.

Asked if Abbas would be able to crack down on Palestinian militants, Carter said that could not be known, but he predicted that Abbas would be able to do more than Arafat had.

"Abu Mazen will have a much greater influence and control," Carter said.

Carter said that the Palestinian Authority plans to cut the number of security organizations from 19 to three and that all of the agencies will answer to ministers appointed by Abbas.

Carter: Elections 'free, honest, open'

Carter praised the election, which Abbas won with more than 62 percent of the votes, describing it as "free, honest, open and without any violence of any kind."

Carter said that, while Israeli cooperation was not flawless, "Israeli cooperation was better than it was in 1996," an election which Carter also monitored.

Carter said that the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas had no significant influence on the election, and he said Hamas has told Abbas it will participate in Palestinian legislative elections in July.

"If they participate in an election process, which they have never done in the past, that may be an encouraging sign," said Carter. "I don't know what Hamas and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades will do."

Hamas and the Brigades have been labeled as a terrorist organizations by the U.S. State Department.

The military wing of Hamas, Izzedine al Qassam, has admitted responsibility for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians as well as attacks against the Israeli military.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades is a military offshoot of Arafat's Fatah movement that has carried out numerous attacks against military targets and civilians in Israel and in Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.


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