RAMALLAH, West Bank Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas extended his hand in peace Monday, his first gesture toward Israel since his landslide victory in presidential elections.
His remarks added to the sense of optimism felt in the region since Abbas' election Sunday. The victory, which capped a peaceful transition of power after the Nov. 11 death of Yasser Arafat, has raised hopes around the world that peace talks could soon resume.
"We extend our hands to our neighbors," Abbas declared late Monday after a meeting with international observers who monitored the election. "We are ready for peace, peace based on justice. We hope that their response will be positive."
Israel has welcomed Abbas' election, and even Palestinian militants expressed a willingness to work with him.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon welcomed Abbas' victory but said he would watch closely how hard he tries to subdue militants.
"He will be tested based on the way in which he fights terrorism and dismantles their infrastructure," Sharon said.
Sharon got a boost for his plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank this summer, with approval of a new coalition with the dovish Labor Party. His new government took office after narrowly winning a parliamentary vote of confidence. The alliance cleared the way for Sharon to push the withdrawal plan through parliament.
In Washington, President Bush congratulated Abbas and invited the new Palestinian leader to the White House -- an offer never extended to Arafat.
Palestinian spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh called the invitation "encouraging."