Barak takes power with an impassioned plea for peace

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The Independent Online
EHUD BARAK pledged to achieve peace with Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians yesterday as he was sworn in as Israel's new Prime Minister.

"From here and today, I call on all the region's leaders to stretch out their hands to meet our outstretched hands and forge a peace of the brave," he said in an impassioned inauguration speech to parliament.

The contrast with Mr Barak's predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, could not have been clearer. Mr Netanyahu sought to deep-freeze the peace process during his three years in office, which ended when he was resoundingly defeated by Mr Barak in a bitterly fought election in May.

Mr Barak's words yesterday were clearly intended to quell Palestinian fears that their concerns would be forgotten in the quest to make peace with Syria. "These two assignments together - the reaching of a permanent agreement with the Palestinians and the achieving of peace with Syria and Lebanon - are equally vital and urgent in my eyes," he said.

Seven weeks after the election, Mr Barak has managed to forge a coalition government in which all parties must accept territorial compromises in the Golan Heights and West Bank. His coalition comprises 75 of the Knesset's 120 members.

The new Israeli leader is being greeted with relief in the rest of the Middle East and in the US, where Mr Netanyahu was regarded as personally untrustworthy and an obstacle to peace. Mr Barak will meet President Clinton in Washington later in the month.

Negotiations with Syria and the Palestinians are expected to start in October after Mr Barak has had time to settle in.