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World - Middle East

Palestinians welcome Barak, hope peace process resumes

Arafat, arriving at his Gaza City office, called on Israelis to 'vote for peace' Monday

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May 17, 1999
Web posted at: 11:17 p.m. EDT (0317 GMT)

In this story:

'Dry three years under Netanyahu'

Palestinian: 'I don't think we'll have an easy ride'

Barak firm on pledge despite Hezbollah attack

Hamas vows to fight; Jordan to work for peace


GAZA, West Bank (CNN) -- Palestinian officials watching the televised results of the Israeli elections at the office of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat on Monday hugged one another when they realized that moderate Labor Party leader Ehud Barak had soundly defeated hard-line incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Looking pleased, Arafat afterwards offered "best wishes" to Barak. "I congratulate him," Arafat told reporters in Gaza City. Asked if he thought the left-leaning Barak would move the peace process forward, he answered: "We hope so."

Earlier Monday, Arafat called on Israelis to "vote for peace," which many considered a thinly veiled endorsement of Barak.

Palestinian leaders had remained publicly neutral before the election, but when the results were in many expressed satisfaction and hope that the stalled peace process would resume.

"This is a sweeping loss for the Israeli fanatic right-wing," said Yasser Abed Rabbo, the Palestinian minister of information and culture.

Netanyahu conceded defeat and announced he would quit as leader of the right-wing Likud Party after Israeli television exit polls projected Barak had won the election by a landslide.

'Dry three years under Netanyahu'

Ahmed Korei, speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, said he now hoped the peace process, suspended by Netanyahu since December, would proceed.

"The result showed that without a doubt the Israelis want to pursue the peace process. We hope that the dry three years under Netanyahu would be forgotten and hope would return by pursuing peace," said Korei, who helped engineer the 1993 Oslo interim peace deals.

Frustration with the lack of progress in the peace process has undermined the Palestinian Authority's credibility among its own people.

"I hope this is a message from the Israeli people for peace," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told CNN after the election.

Palestinian: 'I don't think we'll have an easy ride'

"I don't think we'll have an easy ride with Mr. Barak," he added, but "there is a difference between a tough negotiator and a non-negotiator."

Asked if Barak would move the peace process forward, Arafat replied, 'We hope so'  

To show good faith, Barak should "move immediately" to implement peace agreements and remove troops from the West Bank, Erakat said.

"We need to develop trust. The trust level is below zero now," he said.

Palestinians want Barak to implement outstanding interim deals which would give them control over more of the West Bank and Gaza. They hope to conclude talks on permanent status issues within 12 months.

Barak has said he will put any peace deal with Arafat to a referendum. Barak also has vowed to revive stalled peace talks with Syria.

Barak firm on pledge despite Hezbollah attack

In a victory speech in Tel Aviv before dawn Tuesday, Barak repeated a campaign promise to withdraw Israeli troops from south Lebanon within a year, despite news of an attack by Hezbollah guerrillas in the area.

The rebels fired about 20 rockets on northern Israel during the night, an Israeli security official said, apparently in retaliation for the deaths of two Lebanese civilians from Israeli rocket fire.

Fires blaze after Hezbollah rockets slammed into northern Israel early Tuesday  

The prime minister-elect added he wanted to send "a strong hand" of support to those spending the night in shelters in the north of Israel.

Hamas vows to fight; Jordan to work for peace

The Islamic militant movement Hamas dismissed the election result, saying there was no difference between Netanyahu and Barak.

"We don't have illusions. We look at Barak as no different from Netanyahu," said Ismail Abu Shanab, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza. Earlier on Monday, Hamas vowed to continue attacks against Israel.

But other Arab leaders in the region promised to help the new Israeli prime minister negotiate peace with Palestinian leaders.

"Obviously we are fully committed to the peace process," said King Abdullah of neighboring Jordan, which has close historic ties with the Palestinians.

"Jordan has always had a commitment to move the process forward and to stand by our friends in Israel and the Palestinians," said the king, who plans to meet Tuesday with U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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More choices, weaker voices
Analysis: Why is this election different from all others?
Palestinian perspective: Election viewed with skepticism
U.S. 'hired guns' leave their mark on Israeli politics
Expatriate finds Israelis very much involved in politics
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Israeli Elections

Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), PALESTINE, By Dr. Eng. Baker Abdel Munem
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Barak's lead over Netanyahu grows in Israeli poll
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May 12, 1999
Israel, PLO welcome delay in office-closings order
May 11, 1999
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