- The Washington Times - Monday, September 8, 2003

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Yasser Arafat selected Palestinian parliament speaker Ahmed Qureia to take over as prime minister yesterday, after a day of intense backroom politicking that followed the resignation of Mahmoud Abbas.

Also yesterday, Israeli helicopters fired two missiles at the home of Hamas militant Abdel Salam Abu Musa in the Gaza Strip, wounding at least 11 persons, witnesses said. The army said the target was a Hamas weapons warehouse inside the building, in the Khan Younis refugee camp.

The attack came hours after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said all Hamas militants were “marked for death.”

Ambulances rushed to the area, but had no word on whether anyone was killed. Witnesses said Mr. Musa escaped moments before the attack.

It was the eighth such Israeli missile strike since a Hamas suicide bomber killed 22 persons on a Jerusalem bus Aug. 19. Those attacks have killed 12 militants, including a senior political leader, and five bystanders.

Several leaders of Mr. Arafat’s ruling Fatah party confirmed the nomination by consensus of parliament speaker Qureia, though it remained uncertain whether he would accept. Mr. Qureia attended the meeting last night but did not comment, Fatah officials said. The parliament speaker “is our only nominee,” said Abbas Zaki, a member of the Fatah central committee.

Palestinian officials agreed on Mr. Arafat’s suggestion of Mr. Qureia and asked him to form a new government within 48 hours, said Hanna Amireh, a member of the PLO executive committee.

The developments came during a day of heated negotiations set off by Mr. Abbas’ resignation Saturday. Mr. Arafat had refused to grant him more power over the Palestinian security services, capping four months of wrangling between the two since Mr. Abbas took office.

Mr. Qureia, a moderate who helped cobble together the 1993 Oslo accord between Israel and the PLO, was considered a top candidate to replace Mr. Abbas because he has led past negotiations and has credibility with Israel. Israeli officials didn’t immediately respond to the development.

Mr. Abbas’ resignation dealt a serious blow to the U.S.-backed “road map” plan for establishing a Palestinian state by 2005. Israel and the United States have refused to deal with Mr. Arafat, whom they accuse of fomenting terrorism, and they made Mr. Abbas, a critic of terror attacks against Israelis, their partner in peace efforts.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said any Palestinian prime minister must have clear control over security forces and use them to crack down on militant groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad. “That person has to have political authority and the determination to go after terrorism,” Mr. Powell said yesterday on ABC’s “This Week.”

The “road map” plan requires the Palestinians to dismantle militant groups. Mr. Abbas, despite his strong support for the road map in principle, refused to do this forcefully, appealing in vain to the militants to disarm.

Also known as Abu Ala, Mr. Qureia — like Mr. Abbas — has little independent support on the Palestinian street. He is a savvy political operator who enjoys considerable clout after seven years as parliament speaker.

The Palestinian leadership crisis came as Israel edged toward all-out war with the militant group Hamas.

One day after Saturday’s botched strike against the group’s top leaders, Mr. Sharon stated that all of the Islamic militant group’s members were now “marked for death.”

Yesterday’s missile strike against Mr. Musa appeared to confirm the Israelis’ determination to step up the campaign against Hamas.

The group has promised to exact revenge.

Nine persons were hospitalized after the strike, including three children with moderate injuries from shrapnel, said Dr. Haider al-Qedra, director of Nasser Hospital.

Two others were treated for minor injuries at the site of the attack, he said.

Another Israeli bombing a day earlier lightly injured Hamas’ revered founder, Sheik Ahmed Yassin.

Hamas later took responsibility for planting a bomb that exploded yesterday as an Israeli army jeep drove over the device near the fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip.

The blast lightly wounded three Israeli soldiers, the army said.

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