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Last Updated: Saturday, 25 December, 2004, 13:36 GMT
Abbas launches presidential bid
Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas
Mahmoud Abbas is the favourite to win January's election
Interim Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has called on Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

He also urged the Jewish state to free all political prisoners.

Mr Abbas was speaking in the West Bank city of Ramallah as he launched his campaign for president of the Palestinian Authority.

Mr Abbas is the front-runner in the forthcoming presidential election on 9 January. Saturday also saw seven other candidates launch their campaigns.

If there is no peace here, there will be no peace in the Middle East or the rest of the world
Mahmoud Abbas

He said Israel's planned withdrawal from Gaza should be part of a wider pull-out from all the territory it had occupied since the 1967 Mid-East war - including Arab east Jerusalem.

"Israel must pull out of all Palestinian lands occupied in 1967. We must end the occupation," he told a cheering crowd of hundreds of supporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

"We cannot compromise on Jerusalem," he added.

Israel and the Palestinians both claim Jerusalem as their capital.

'Justice and right'

"We are choosing the path of peace and negotiation," Mr Abbas said. "If there is no peace here, there will be no peace in the Middle East or the rest of the world."

But he warned that peace with Israel would only be possible with the release of all Palestinian prisoners, especially jailed intifada (uprising) leader Marwan Barghouti.

Mr Barghouti had initially planned to run for president, but pulled out under pressure from members of the ruling Fatah party, which chose Mr Abbas as its candidate.

Earlier, speaking in Bethlehem, Mr Abbas said he wanted to extend his hand to the Israelis, to negotiate a peace built on "justice and right".

Mr Abbas was in Bethlehem for the traditional midnight mass at the Church of the Nativity.

It was the first time in several years that a Palestinian leader has been at the service. Israel barred the late Yasser Arafat from travelling to Bethlehem.

Mr Abbas's main challenger, Mustafa Barghouti, an advocate of non-violent struggle, put on the black-and-white chequered keffiyeh that Arafat made into a symbol of the Palestinian struggle as he launched his campaign at the late president's gravesite in Ramallah.




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