Palestinian officials say they will make every effort to ensure a peaceful transition to a new government following the resignation of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. They say the resignation should not be allowed to harm efforts to bring peace to the region.

While many Palestinians are dismayed at the Abbas resignation, predicting it will plunge the region into further chaos, the Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said the Abbas resignation should be seen as a sign of an emerging Palestinian democracy.

He admits the Palestinian leadership is facing a "critical situation" but said there are strong prospects of continuing political stability.

Mr. Erekat pointed out that Mr. Abbas will continue to serve in a caretaker capacity until the formation of a new Palestinian cabinet. He said the resignation should not prejudice the international "road map" to peace in the Middle East.

The plan, which is backed by the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, calls for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state by 2005. Some observers have said Mr. Abbas's decision to quit could effectively kill the plan.

However, Mr. Erekat said the international community should continue to push for peace, and he distanced himself from the reaction of some Palestinian lawmakers who said Mr. Abbas's announcement could lead to a period of chaos.

The Israeli reaction to the resignation was that it could result in a new political crisis between Israel and the Palestinians.

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon described the resignation as "an internal Palestinian matter".

The statement went on to say Israel would not deal with anyone nominated for the post by Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. (Signed)