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Shimon Peres Sworn In as Israel's President

Israel's elder statesman, Shimon Peres, 83, was sworn in Sunday as his country's ninth president, a largely ceremonial post that has come under a cloud of scandal in recent years. VOA's Jim Teeple also reports from Jerusalem that Israeli officials have agreed to stop pursuing about 180 wanted Palestinian militants loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, one day before Mr. Abbas and Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert are scheduled to meet.

Shimon Peres was sworn in at Israel's Knesset, or Parliament. Saying he would use his largely ceremonial office to encourage young people to enter political life in Israel, President Peres also said he would do his best to encourage the peace process with Palestinians, and with Israel's Arab neighbors.

Mr. Peres has held virtually all of Israel's top civilian posts, including the jobs of prime minister and foreign minister without ever having won a national election. Last month he became the sentimental favorite in a parliamentary vote for the office of president.

Veteran Labor Party politician Collette Avital, who withdrew from the race in favor of Mr. Peres, says he is the right man for the job.

"I am very glad Shimon Peres got elected. He will bring us great prestige and great honor to the country," said Avital. "He is internationally known, loved and appreciated, much longer than we in Israel appreciated him. So I thing altogether we all have to be very glad that he was the one that was elected."

Mr. Peres a member of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's centrist Kadima Party, lost the last race for president in 2000 to Moshe Katsav, a virtually unknown politician from the right-wing Likud Party.

Mr. Katsav resigned recently as part of a plea bargain that enabled him to avoid being indicted on more serious charges of rape and abuse of power. The case caused a storm of protest, and women's groups have challenged the plea bargain in court.

Mr. Peres has served 48 years in Israel's parliament. He says he does not believe the office of the presidency has been damaged by the scandal, but that he will work to try and unify all Israelis and stay above politics.

Meanwhile, Israeli officials said they will not pursue about 180 Palestinian gunmen loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement in exchange for the gunmen signing pledges of non-violence.

Israeli officials also said they will allow overseas-based leaders of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine to visit the West Bank. Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mark Regev says the moves are designed to help Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"Behind these measures is an Israeli desire together with members of the international community to bolster Palestinian moderates," said Regev. "We want the Palestinian people to reach an understanding that they get so much more through a process of dialogue and negotiation than the extremists who can only offer death and destruction."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert are scheduled to meet Monday.

Israel has also pledged to release about 250 Palestinian prisoners in a bid to strengthen Mr. Abbas, who last month dismissed the Hamas-led Palestinian unity government after Hamas militants seized control of the Gaza Strip.

On Friday in response to constitutional limits on his ability to maintain a state of emergency, Mr. Abbas swore in three new ministers and re-appointed his moderate Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to his position, allowing the new government to stay in power. Hamas legislators were unable to overturn the decision Sunday, because they could not obtain a quorum of enough legislators to challenge the new government's legitimacy.