As Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon accused PLO chairman and new Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas of doing nothing to stop attacks, the PLO's decision-making executive committee demanded on Sunday that armed factions stop "harming the national interest".

"The committee gave its full support to Abu Mazin's inauguration speech to stop all military acts that harm our national interest," the PLO executive committee said in a statement after meeting in the West Bank town of Ram Allah.

Such attacks merely "give an excuse to the Israeli position which is aimed at sabotaging Palestinian stability and the implementation of the roadmap", the committee added.

'Calm needed'

During a speech on Saturday after being sworn in as Palestinian Authority president, Abbas criticised attacks by armed resistance groups as hampering efforts to "bring about the calm needed to enable a credible, serious peace process".

Israeli has staged a number of
attacks since Abbas' poll victory

Sharon ordered a freeze on all contacts with the Palestinian Authority on Friday in the aftermath of a suicide attack on a border crossing between Gaza and Israel in which six Israelis were killed.

Three resistance factions claimed joint responsibility for the attack, including the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which is an armed offshoot of Abbas' own mainstream Fatah movement.

Abbas is due to travel on Wednesday to Gaza City, the stronghold of the Islamist movements Hamas and Islamic Jihad, for talks with their leaderships about securing a new ceasefire.

Israel frustrated

Abbas, who succeeded the late Yasir Arafat as PLO chairman after his death in November, has been an outspoken critic of the use of weapons in al-Aqsa Intifada.

He has also angered Palestinian armed factions with his condemnation of frequent rocket attacks launched from Gaza at southern Israel or at settlements in the territory, saying that they usually cause more damage to Palestinian civilians.

Israel, however, has expressed frustration that Abbas has failed to translate his verbal denunciations into action on the ground.

Sharon said he has given Israeli
military carte blanche in Gaza

Sharon told Sunday's cabinet meeting that he had given the army carte blanche to crush armed Palestinian groups in Gaza.

Commitment stressed

In his speech on Saturday, Abbas stressed his commitment to the internationally backed roadmap peace plan which calls for an end to all Palestinian attacks.

The blueprint, which targets the creation of an independent Palestinian state living alongside a secure Israel, has made next to no progress since its launch in June 2003.

Sharon has said that Abbas and the Palestinian Authority will not be considered a partner in the peace process unless they take concrete action to dismantle what he calls the "terrorist infrastructure".