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Wednesday, May 19, 1999 Published at 05:36 GMT 06:36 UK

World: Middle East

Arafat and Barak make peace pledge

Ehud Barak: Wants peace with Palestinians and unity in Israel

Israel's new Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat have pledged to work together to pursue peace.

Israel Elections Special Report
The need to implement the peace agreements already reached was agreed by the two men during a telephone conversation on Tuesday.

A Palestinian spokesman said Mr Arafat had also pressed for talks on the final status of the Palestinian territories.

Following his landslide general election win on Tuesday, Mr Barak promised peace with the Palestinians and unity among Israelis.

The BBC's Lyse Doucet: "Israel is still stunned by the political upset that swept Barak to power"
"We are one nation," Mr Barak told thousands of cheering supporters celebrating in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square.

His clear margin of victory has been welcomed worldwide as a mandate for change and has increased hopes for movement in the Middle East peace process.

United States President Bill Clinton offered his "warmest congratulations" to Mr Barak by telephone, saying he should work "energetically for a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace that strengthens Israel's security."

[ image:  ]
His election was also welcomed by Egypt and Jordan, who are the only Arab countries to have peace treaties with Israel, while a Syrian newspaper said it hoped he would encourage radical moves in the peace process.

However, Arab pleasure at Mr Netanyahu's defeat was strongly tempered by scepticism and warnings that Mr Barak's policies remain largely unknown.

The BBC's Jeremy Bowen: "The prime minister elect has set himself a heavy agenda"
"There is no difference between Barak and Netanyahu and the best proof of that is his speech after he was elected," said a spokesman for the Lebanese Prime Minister Selim al-Hoss.

In his victory speech at his party's HQ, Mr Barak promised to fulfil his campaign pledge to pull out of the occupied southern Lebanon region "within a year".

[ image:  ]
But he added that in the coming months, Israel would be facing some of the most difficult and fateful decisions in its history.

Although most attention focused on the prime ministerial race, Israelis also voted for a new parliament, whose composition will have a vast influence over Mr Barak's ability to govern.

Shape of the Knesset

In the Knesset elections, Mr Barak's Labour Party and its allies - the One Israel coalition - won only 27 of 120 seats.

[ image:  ]
The BBC Jerusalem correspondent says the question now is whether Mr Barak will try to form a national unity government, which would include the ousted Likud, or stick with Labour's traditional political allies.

It has been suggested that a deal could also be forged with the ultra-Orthodox Sephardic Jewish movement, Shas, which made significant gains to take its tally of seats from 10 to 17.

By comparison, Likud's showing plummeted from 32 to just 19 seats.

The leader of Shas, Aryeh Deri, has announced that he is stepping down to allow his party to negotiate a coalition with Labour, despite the fact that Shas endorsed Mr Netanyahu for prime minister.

[ image: Shas supporters celebrate the party's results]
Shas supporters celebrate the party's results
Labour had earlier indicated that it would not be able to work with the party if Mr Deri remained at its head, following his recent conviction for corruption, bribery and fraud.

Mr Deri's four year sentence has been deferred, awaiting a Supreme Court appeal.

Following his resounding defeat, Mr Netanyahu announced his intention to resign from the leadership of the Likud party. He said he wanted to spend more time with his family.

His foreign minister, Ariel Sharon, takes over in a temporary capacity.

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