RAMALLAH, West Bank – As the campaign to pick a new Palestinian leader entered its final days, fresh violence led to fatal attacks on Israelis and curtailed some activity of candidates seeking to replace the late Yasser Arafat.
Sunday's election is being closely monitored by Israeli officials, who have tried to remain silent about identifying a "favorite" candidate in the race or influencing how Palestinians (search) vote.
"We are in a very interesting time whereby an opportunity has presented itself by the departure of Arafat, whose legacy was a legacy really of bloodshed and missed opportunities," Daniel Ayalon (search), the Israeli ambassador to the United States, told FOXNews.com in an interview in New York.
Ayalon quoted a predecessor of his who once said "the Palestinians never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity." But he also said he saw a chance for a departure: "Israel is very much willing and interested to see free and fair elections held there."
What officials also want is a safe election.
On Friday, Palestinian gunmen opened fire on a group of Israelis soldiers in the West Bank, killing one and wounding three, a day after militant leaders in the area told Palestinian presidential candidate Mahmoud Abbas (search) they were ready to abide by a cease-fire.
The attack by militants from the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades (search), a violent offshoot of Abbas' own Fatah movement, cast doubt on Abbas ability to prevent militant violence, a key Israeli demand to move forward with the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan.
Also Friday, Israeli forces shot and killed a 23-year-old Palestinian walking near the Gaza settlement of Netzarim, Palestinian security officials said. The Israeli army said the man was armed with an anti-tank missile and was suspected of planning an attack.
In the West Bank shooting, off-duty Israeli soldier in civilian clothes and a civilian vehicle were driving near a settlement when a car carrying Palestinians approached from the opposite direction and blocked the road, the military said. At least one militant in the car shot at the soldiers before driving away, the military said.
Abbas criticized the attack. "There is no justification for this operation, but there are a lot of reasons behind it," he said at a news conference, his last official event before Sunday's Palestinian presidential election, which he is predicted to win easily. Candidates are prohibited from campaigning the day before the vote.
On Thursday, Abbas met with militants in Nablus, including Al Aqsa officials, and said afterward they were ready to support his cease-fire efforts. One Al Aqsa leader at the meeting, Ala Sanakra, said the group halted attacks in the West Bank weeks ago as a gesture to Abbas and would continue to refrain from attacks after the election.
However, Al Aqsa claimed responsibility for Friday's attack.
Abbas has refused to call for a crack down on the militants, preferring instead to push for a negotiated cease-fire.
At the news conference, Abbas did say he would tackle the issue of illegal weapons, which militants often carry publicly in Palestinian towns.
"When I see you in the street carrying a handgun or a machine gun I want to ask if this machine gun is legitimate, if it is licensed?" he said. "If it is not, you will be punished according to the law."
Abbas also said he was committed to merging the myriad Palestinian security services, which proliferated under the rule of the late Yasser Arafat.
"We believe that the unification of security services is necessary," he said.
Abbas also said if he wins, he will ask Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (search) to stay on in his post.
Also Friday, Abbas canceled a visit to Jerusalem and Israeli authorities expelled a second candidate who tried to pray at a holy site in the city.
Abbas had been tentatively scheduled to travel to Jerusalem to pray at al-Aqsa mosque, hold a rally and tour the Old City. A senior official with his campaign said Israel wanted to give Abbas a large security detail to protect him from Jewish extremists. Abbas decided that being surrounded by Israeli security would have been embarrassing, the official said.
Israeli police spokesman Gil Kleiman said no request had been received for Abbas to enter the city.
Abbas struck a defiant note about his canceled appearance.
"Yes, we didn't go to Jerusalem today," he told a rally in Beir Naballah, a Palestinian town on Jerusalem's outskirts. "But we will be in Jerusalem tomorrow, because Jerusalem is the eternal capital for the Palestinian people."
Mustafa Barghouti (search), who is running a distant second to Abbas, was detained by police as he tried to enter the Old City to pray at al-Aqsa. After an hour of questioning, he was released at a West Bank checkpoint.
It was the second time Jerusalem police arrested Barghouti, who lives in the West Bank, during the campaign.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry said Barghouti took advantage of a permit allowing him to enter the city for a meeting with former President Jimmy Carter and other election monitors.
"His obvious objective was to create a public disturbance that would serve his election campaign while abusing the goodwill of the government of Israel," the ministry said.
The status of Jerusalem is one of the most contentious issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war and is home to Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites, for the capital of a future state. Israel claims all of the city as its capital.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.