RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Mahmoud Abbas, formally taking office as head of the Palestinian Authority, used his inaugural address yesterday to urge Israel to return to peace negotiations "so that we can end, once and for all, the historic conflict between us."
Abbas, who was elected by an overwhelming margin Jan. 9, took the oath of office a day after Israel suspended official contacts with Palestinian leaders after an attack Thursday by militant groups in Gaza that left six Israelis dead.
The attack and Israel's response effectively stripped Abbas of the momentum he had gained since winning an election that had seemed to usher in a new era of relations with Israel.
Now the region once again faces the prospect of plunging back into a familiar cycle of violence, with militant groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the armed wing of Abbas' Fatah movement, dictating the course of events.
Violence continued yesterday. The Israeli army killed five Palestinians in a raid on the outskirts of Gaza City and killed two more in operations in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip. The army said it had fired on armed gunmen.
Also, two Israelis living in a Jewish settlement in Gaza were wounded by Palestinian mortar or rocket fire. The injured included a 7-year-old boy.
"We are two peoples destined to live side by side and to share this land between us," Abbas said in his address. Speaking to the latest violence, he added: "We condemn these actions, whether by the Israeli occupation forces or the reactions of some Palestinian factions.
"I would like to stress here that we are fully prepared to resume permanent-status negotiations and that we are politically ready to reach a comprehensive agreement over all these issues."
Abbas, who also called for a general cease-fire from both sides, took the oath of office in a hall next to the late Yasser Arafat's battered compound. With his right hand on a Quran, Abbas, 69, pledged to preserve the national heritage of the Palestinian people. He took over from Rawhi Fattouh, the speaker of the Palestinian parliament, who had served as acting president since Arafat's death Nov. 11.
Fattouh, upon Abbas' completion of the oath, beamed with pride at the smooth transition of power and the election that was deemed fair and democratic by international observers -- although 46 election workers resigned yesterday, protesting what they called a series of irregularities.
"Now we have an elected president," Fattouh said, "authorized by a mandate of the Palestinian people."
The inauguration was packed with foreign and Palestinian dignitaries; a contingent of Christian leaders representing Catholic, Greek and Armenian Orthodox and Coptic; along with lawmakers and Abbas' main campaign rival, Mustafa Barghouti, who finished second in the vote.
The event was held in a gleaming reception hall next to the complex used by Arafat and mostly ruined by Israeli army raids. But Abbas, who prefers suits to Arafat's revolutionary garb, has spruced up the compound, part of an overhaul of the Palestinian Authority's image and professionalism.
He ordered the sandbags removed from the windows and doors, had barrels that were placed to slow an Israeli assault taken away and replaced his predecessor's fatigued presidential guards with security guards in civilian dress.
A direct plea
Abbas, who has called for an end to the armed uprising and plans to meet soon with Egyptian intermediaries to try to secure a cease-fire, pleaded directly with Israelis yesterday.
He said it was time that the two sides negotiate the most difficult issues, instead of a course that requires the fulfillment of incremental steps that often fail and bog down the rest of the process.
To world leaders, he said: "You must ensure that we do not re-enter the labyrinth of preconditions that preclude progress. You must ensure that we do not get stuck in the maze of long-term partial or interim solutions designed to delay reaching a full and comprehensive solution.
"Today it is up to the world to give our people hope, and it is up to the world not to repeat the same mistakes that sabotaged many initiatives and positive efforts in the past. Welcoming Palestinian democracy and supporting it is important, but this support will remain deficient if it is not shored up with efforts to end all aspects of the occupation so that this democracy may continue and thrive."
Israeli leaders had long complained that Arafat was an obstacle to peace talks, and they had expressed guarded optimism that his replacement, Abbas, would be the pragmatic president who could lead the Palestinians away from violence.
Ariel Sharon, Israel's prime minister, called Abbas after his election victory and was making plans to meet the new Palestinian president. Aides for the two leaders had met once to set up parameters for a mini-summit and had described the meeting as cordial and positive.