Early exit polls are predicting a landslide victory, raising hopes his leadership will usher in a new era of peace.

The PLO chairman won two thirds of Sunday’s vote with 66.3 percent, while his nearest rival, independent Mustafa Barghouti, scored 19.7 percent, according to a study by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research.

A second poll by Bir Zeit University gave Mr Abbas an even bigger margin of victory with 66.1 percent to Barghouti’s 18.1 percent.

A final result is expected to be announced later on Monday.

Speaking after initial poll results came out on Sunday, Mr Abbas promised to put an end to the suffering of the Palestinian people.

Supporters of his Fatah movement celebrated his win on the streets of Ramallah by firing guns into the air.

Israel welcomed the result saying it hoped the victory of the moderate former premier in the race to succeed Yasser Arafat would usher in a new era of peace.

Voting was extended for two hours after the central elections commission claimed Israeli restrictions in the occupied territories had hampered access to polling booths.

However monitors said there had been no major problems with only the second ever presidential election and there were no reports of violence.

The conduct of the ballot even won praise from Israel.

“I think to the best of my understanding and knowledge it’s a democratic process and this in itself is enormously important because it’s the only democratic process in the Arab world,” said Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

But Mr Olmert said Mr Abbas’s real challenge was only just beginning.

“Now after being elected the main challenge is still ahead of him. Will he fight the terrorists and stop the bloody war against us?”

An Abbas presidency is likely to lead to a resumption of top-level talks with Israel.

World leaders said the emergence of a new leader represented an opportunity to advance the peace process.

“I think that for the first time in a long time we’ve got a possibility of progress here,” British Prime Minister Tony Blair said.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell said Washington was poised to take a more active role in the Middle East following the election.

“With good will and good leadership coming into the Palestinian Authority, it is now time to get going on the roadmap,” Powell said in reference to the internationally backed peace plan.

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