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Abbas's Challenge: Unite Palestine, Foster Peace

Aired June 9, 2003 - 19:21   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, ANCHOR: Welcome back. We turn to the Middle East now.
It has become apparent the road map for peace in the Middle East is not a guide everyone there wants to follow.

Three militant groups claimed credit for a weekend attack that left four Israeli soldiers dead. Overcoming their differences with each other to act together to show their displeasure with the peace plan and with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

Still, the attack has not changed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's backing of the peace plan. Military sources say Israeli troops began dismantling settlement outposts on the West Bank.

Kelly Wallace has more now on the story from the West Bank.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Facing a coordinated challenge from all three major Palestinian factions, the embattled Palestinian prime minister went on the offensive, condemning Sunday's attack, which left four Israeli soldiers dead, and renewing his call for an end to all attacks against Israelis.

"We insist on a dialogue, but in the end, we will not force anyone to resume talks," Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas said.

But it is a tough sell, with radical Palestinian groups such as Hamas breaking off ceasefire talks last week, accusing the Palestinian prime minister of demanding too little of Israel in his speech last week in Aqaba, Jordan.

And so Prime Minister Abbas tried to do some damage control.

"Now there was a misunderstanding regarding the statement at Aqaba," the prime minister said, "and we clarify to you now and to the public." And he took on issues he had not publicly in Jordan, such as the plight of Palestinian prisoners like Abu Suka (ph), who until his release last week was the longest-serving Palestinian prisoner in an Israeli jail.

(on camera) Complicating Mahmoud Abbas' efforts, his lack of political support on the streets. He has only a single digit popularity rating. And his speech in Aqaba did not seem to bolster his standing here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We do not agree with this speech. Because he neglected everything we want.

WALLACE (voice-over): Said Muhammad Sumata (ph), who told us he faces tougher travel restrictions now than he did before the summit.

Still, many Palestinians say Mr. Abbas should be given a chance. Like Nag Chatalya (ph), who splits his time between Brooklyn, New York, and Ramallah.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He would have the support and believe me, if you ask all the people one by one, 99 percent they want the peace.

WALLACE: the Palestinian prime minister now faces the biggest test since the smiles of Aqaba, achieving a ceasefire and winning Israeli concessions, crucial not just for the road map, but perhaps for his political future.

Kelly Wallace, CNN, Ramallah.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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