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White House Welcomes Palestinian Leader's Call for Non-Violence

The Bush administration has reacted positively to the latest comments from Mahmoud Abbas - the Palestinian leader campaigning to succeed Yasser Arafat in elections next month.

Mahmoud Abbas says Palestinians should lay down their weapons and resort to non-violent means in their struggle against Israel.

During a session with reporters, White House spokesman Scott McClellan was asked if those words mark a turning point in the search for Middle East peace.

He said the United States has long urged the Palestinian leadership to take steps to fight terror.

"All parties have responsibilities in the Middle East and we want all parties to meet those responsibilities," he said. "And fighting terrorism and ending the violence is critical to moving forward on building the institutions for a viable state to emerge."

He said the White House always welcomes steps that are aimed at fighting terrorism, noting President Bush has talked often and at length about the need to end violence in the region so ultimately there can be two states living side by side in peace: Israel and Palestine.

"We remain focused on working toward a strategy that will put in place the institutions necessary for a viable state to emerge," Mr. McClellan said. "But fighting terrorism and putting in a unified security force are key."

The statements by Mahmoud Abbas came in an interview published Tuesday with London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. He said Palestinians should continue to resist Israeli occupation, but the use of weapons was a mistake and must stop.

His comments followed accusations from Israel that Palestinian leaders were not doing enough to rein in militant groups, who have carried out a number of attacks in recent days.

On Sunday, Palestinian militants staged a bloody attack on Israeli troops, setting off an explosion in a tunnel beneath an army base. Five soldiers were killed, and Israel responded by demolishing several buildings in the Gaza Strip.