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Palestinian prime minister Abbas resigns

Founder of Hamas injured in Israeli strike

Mahmoud Abbas leaves his office shortly after submitting his resignation in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Saturday.
Mahmoud Abbas leaves his office shortly after submitting his resignation in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Saturday.

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Abbas has stepped down. Gideon Meir of the Israeli Foreign Ministry talks about what it means.
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CNN's Chris Burns on Israel's latest threat to expel Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat from his shattered compound.
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Mahmoud Abbas
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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- In a day that further tattered the beat-up road map to Mideast peace, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas resigned and Israel wounded the founder of Hamas in a missile strike on Saturday.

Abbas submitted his resignation and that of his government to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, who later told Palestinian legislators in Ramallah that Abbas and his Cabinet will be operating as a caretaker government.

Although Arafat stopped short of saying he accepted Abbas' resignation in his remarks, some Palestinian legislators told CNN that invoking a caretaker government is tantamount to accepting it.

Palestinian officials, however, are not discounting the possibility that Abbas could eventually maintain his position as prime minister, with Arafat asking Abbas to appoint a new government.

In Gaza City, Palestinian witnesses said that the Hamas founder and spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin was lightly wounded in an Israeli F-16 missile strike.

Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas political leader, and Marwan Abu Ras, a member of Hamas and professor at the Islamic University of Gaza, were also injured.

Yassin, Haniyeh and Abu Ras were meeting in the three-story building, where Abu Ras lives. The third floor was demolished in the strike.

Ten others, all bystanders, were hurt and the wounded were taken from the scene by ambulances, Palestinian sources said. (Full story)

The Israel Defense Forces confirmed the attack, saying its air force struck a building "in which the terrorist leadership of Hamas headed by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin was meeting to plan future attacks against Israelis. The IDF will continue to wage a relentless war against Hamas and other terror organizations."

The IDF has intensified its policy of targeted attacks on Hamas leaders after the military wing of Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad said they were behind the terror bombing of a Jerusalem bus on August 19 that killed 21. Israel said it would no longer differentiate between Hamas' political and military wings.

Twelve Hamas figures have been killed since the bus bombing and another was left brain dead and on life support. But the strikes have also killed at least one Palestinian bystander dead and injured more than 50.

European Union foreign ministers on Saturday also denounced the political wing of Hamas as a terrorist organization after the group's claim of responsibility for the bus bombing -- a decision long sought by both Israel and the United States.

Saturday's decision opens the way for Europe to freeze the group's assets and place its leaders on a terrorist blacklist. (Full story)

Hamas and Islamic Jihad are on the U.S. State Department's list of terrorist organizations.

Abbas had offered hope for a U.S.-backed step-by-step peace plan, or the Mideast road map, but said all along that he did not want to be a figurehead prime minister. During his four months in office, he has been in a power struggle with Arafat, particularly over control of Palestinian security forces to rein in militants conducting terror attacks against Israeli civilians.

A senior Israeli government official told CNN that Arafat had failed Abbas and the road map, and Israel will not deal with Arafat or anyone appointed on his behalf now that Abbas has resigned.

In a statement, Abbas told the Palestinian Legislative Council his reasons for stepping down.

The fundamental problem, the statement said, was "Israel's unwillingness to implement its road map commitments and to undertake any constructive measures."

He also said the United States and the international community "did not exert sufficient influence on Israel to implement its commitments in the road map to push the peace process forward or to end its military escalation."

Abbas cited "lack of support for the government's policies; harsh and dangerous domestic incitement against the government and the obstruction of its functions, and unjustified accusations that the government and the prime minister had the motive of either having control over everything or nothing."

International concern

Abbas will preside over a caretaker role until a new government is sworn in, which could take about 90 days, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said: "The creation of the office of prime minister was a key turning point for the Palestinian Authority in the development of new institutions to serve all the people, not just a corrupt few tainted by terror.

"The prime minister must be supported by a Cabinet committed to fighting terror, political reform, and rooting out corruption."

European officials, such as British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, called the resignation a blow to the peace process.

"The situation is grave," Straw said. "We have all worked hard to support the legitimate prime minister."

In reaction to Abbas' move, Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi, a senior Hamas leader, said "the first mistake was the establishment of this government because it was the result of external pressures.

"It's not the result of Palestinian will and Palestinian interest. This result now is an expected one and I believe that the first mistake lead to this mistake now, the resignation."

Israeli Justice Minister Tommy Lapid said the development shows that "the Palestinian tendency to commit suicide is now showing itself in its political life."

Gideon Meir of the Israeli Foreign Ministry said Arafat is solely responsible for Abbas' resignation and pointed out that Arafat has tried to undermine Abbas from the beginning.

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