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Since 1st March, 1999
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Palestine PM quits, Hamas leader injured

Ramallah, Sept. 6 (Reuters): Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas submitted his resignation today in a power struggle with Yasser Arafat, dealing a possibly fatal setback for a US-backed plan for peace with Israel.

It was not clear whether the resignation would be accepted by Arafat, who is wary of being blamed for a collapse of peacemaking and of Israeli threats to expel him.

Hours after the resignation, Israeli forces fired a missile into a house in Gaza City in an apparent bid to kill the spiritual leader of the biggest Palestinian militant movement Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was slightly wounded.

Hamas members said the wheelchair-bound Yassin, co-founder of the Islamic faction, received hospital treatment after being slightly wounded in the hand and shoulder. Palestinian medics said 14 other people were wounded.

Hamas, 12 of whose members have been killed in Israeli missile strikes since a suicide bombing killed 22 Israelis in Israel on August 19, threatened to kill Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

“We warn Sharon that his head is now wanted by our troops,” militants told an angry crowd through loudspeakers.

Abbas’ departure could ruin a US-backed plan for peace with Israel and accelerate a slide back into violence after Palestinian militants scrapped a truce and Israel stepped up a campaign to assassinate their leaders.

Arafat had blocked Abbas’ efforts to obtain security powers since appointing him under US pressure in April, but accepting the resignation could provoke Israel into trying to deport him.

“President Arafat is still studying Abu Mazen’s resignation,” Palestinian national security adviser Jibril al-Rajoub said in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Abbas told a closed meeting with parliamentarians that he had quit because of the power struggle and what he called a lack of support from Israel and the US in peacemaking.

Top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Abbas would run a caretaker administration while Arafat “studies the options”.

Arafat met lawmakers later, read out Abbas’ resignation letter and said it was “unfortunate that Abbas has resorted to this action”, but did not indicate whether he would approve it.

Sharon’s office said Israel would not accept day-to-day control of the Palestinian authority reverting to Arafat “or anyone doing his bidding”.

Israel has sought to sideline Arafat, saying he has incited violence in the almost three-year-old uprising against Israeli occupation in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, a charge he denies.

“He is part of the problem and not the solution. He is a direct cause that threatens stability in the area,” an Israeli foreign ministry statement said.

Israel and the US have backed Abbas as the main hope for reforms and peace moves while trying to isolate Arafat.

Israel has confined Arafat to his Ramallah headquarters for most of the last 18 months. Abbas has travelled freely to meet Sharon in Israel and US President George W. Bush in Washington, and attended a summit with both men in Jordan.

The “road map” plan, which envisages a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by 2005, was already in jeopardy from the collapse of the ceasefire and paralysing disputes between the sides over who should take what step first.

Israel accused Abbas of doing nothing to dismantle militant groups sworn to destroying the Jewish state.

It says the truce, which they declared on June 29, fell apart because of the Hamas suicide bombing on August 19.

Palestinians said Israel’s continued offensives against militants sabotaged the truce and that blockades of West Bank cities denied Abbas the credibility he needed to swoop on what he has called “armed chaos” in Palestinian-administered areas.

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