DEIR EL-BALAH, Gaza Strip - Mahmoud Abbas, the leading candidate for Palestinian president, called on militants Sunday to stop firing rockets at Israel, as Israeli tanks and troops massed in northern Gaza in response to the latest barrage.
A poll released Sunday showed Abbas with the backing of two-thirds of his people, three times the support of his nearest rival before a Jan. 9 election to replace Yasser Arafat. Still, the candidate with the gray, bureaucratic image spent the day courting those who have disparaged him in the past: young militants.
With Israeli tanks gathering nearby, Abbas expressed his support for the gunmen - viewed as resistance heroes by Palestinians and as terrorists by Israel - at a campaign rally at a school in the northern Gaza town of Jebaliya.
However, he also criticized the rocket fire.
"Don't let your actions be used as an additional pretext and excuse for them to fight us," Abbas said.
The Israelis sent forces into northern Gaza on Sunday after Palestinians fired mortars at the Erez industrial zone next to the main Gaza-Israel checkpoint and rockets at Sderot, just outside the Gaza fence, wounding several Israelis.