JERUSALEM, Dec. 14 -- The front-runner in next month's election to succeed Yasser Arafat as Palestinian leader said in an interview published Tuesday that the violence employed by Palestinians in their more than four-year armed uprising was a mistake and that opposition to Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip should be expressed peacefully.
Mahmoud Abbas, a former Palestinian prime minister who now heads the Palestine Liberation Organization, told the London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq al-Awsat that it was "a legitimate right of the people to express their rejection of the occupation by popular and social means." However, Abbas said, "the use of arms has been damaging and should end."
Abbas has repeatedly called for an end to the bloodshed that has claimed the lives of about 3,000 Palestinians and more than 1,000 Israelis since the uprising, known as the intifada, erupted in September 2000.
During his term as the Palestinians' first prime minister, from April to September 2003, he promised to curb violence and establish security in the Palestinian-populated territories under the terms of a U.S.-brokered peace plan known as the "road map." But Palestinian groups refused to lay down their weapons unilaterally, and Arafat, then president of the Palestinian Authority, largely blocked attempts by Abbas to bring security matters under the control of the prime minister's office.
Palestinians are to vote on Jan. 9 for a successor to Arafat, who died last month after 10 years as Palestinian Authority president and more than three decades as head of the PLO. Abbas, who quit the prime ministership after losing several battles with Arafat over direction of the authority, is the overwhelming favorite to win the election.
Recent polls indicated he had slightly more support than his principal challenger -- Marwan Barghouti, an architect of the uprising who is serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison. Barghouti announced Sunday that he would not run and voiced support for Abbas.
Leaders of the Palestinians' various armed factions have shown no sign that they would renounce violence even with Abbas in the presidency. On Tuesday, a spokesman for the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas, rejected Abbas's call for nonviolence.
"I believe the consensus of the Palestinian people contradicts these statements," Sami Abu Zuhri, the spokesman, told the Reuters news agency. "The strategies of the Palestinian people should be discussed through a serious and comprehensive dialogue." Hamas has vowed to boycott next month's election.
A recent opinion poll showed Palestinians expressing divided and sometimes contradictory feelings about whether continued violence would achieve the goals of Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and establishment of a Palestinian state.
In the survey, conducted this month by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, 49 percent of respondents said they supported armed attacks against Israeli civilians inside Israel, compared with 54 percent in September. Sixty-four percent said they believed that armed confrontations have helped the Palestinians achieve their rights in ways that negotiations could not, the poll found.