Abbas threatens to resign over prisoners issue

 

MIDDLE EAST: Palestinian Prime Minister Mr Mahmoud Abbas threatened to quit yesterday over fierce internal criticism of his handling of negotiations with Israel, while the truce declared last week by militant groups was shaken when a cell of the radical Islamic Jihad movement claimed responsibility for a suicide attack inside Israel on Monday night that killed one Israeli.

In light of the criticism, which focused on the issue of the release of Palestinian prisoners, Mr Abbas cancelled a meeting scheduled for today with Israeli Prime Minister Mr Ariel Sharon.

The Palestinian Prime Minister said he would quit the Central Committee of Yasser Arafat's ruling Fatah party in protest over ongoing criticism by members, many of them loyal to the Palestinian Authority President.

Mr Arafat has never fully come to terms with the creation of the post of prime minister earlier this year.

One Palestinian official said Mr Abbas had sent Mr Arafat two letters, offering his resignation from the Central Committee in one of them. In the second, Mr Abbas is said to have asked that the key Fatah body decide how it wants talks with Israel to be conducted, and that if he did not agree then Mr Abbas would resign as prime minister.

The suicide attack, at a home in the agricultural community of Moshav Yavetz close to Israel's border with the West Bank, was initially thought to be a blast caused by an exploding gas canister. But, by yesterday morning, police officers said the attack - the first inside Israel since militant groups announced a truce on June 29th - was the work of a suicide bomber.

A 63-year-old woman, Mazal Afari, was killed and three of her grandchildren injured, when the explosion brought down the ceiling of her home. The body of the bomber, identified as Ahmed Yehiya (22), from a village near the northern West Bank city of Jenin, was discovered in the wrecked house.

The Islamic Jihad cell, operating in the West Bank, said it would carry out more attacks if Israel did not agree to a mass release of Palestinian prisoners in its jails - an issue that has become a growing point of contention between the two sides.

The Israeli cabinet decided on Sunday to release some 350 prisoners, but determined that none belonging to Hamas or Islamic Jihad would go free.

Senior Islamic Jihad officials in the West Bank and Gaza, however, distanced themselves from the attack, calling it "irregular", and said their three-month truce was still intact.