Abbas’ adviser resigns, Israel kills 6 Palestinians

1188.jpgPalestinian security chief Mohammad Dahlan resigned on Thursday after weeks of criticism over the defeat of his forces by Hamas members in the Gaza Strip in June, senior Palestinian officials said.Dahlan, 46, rose through the ranks of President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fateh movement as a protégé of the late Yasser Arafat.

Abdul-Salam Abu Askar, an aide to Dahlan, said in a statement he had tendered his resignation as Abbas’ national security adviser on medical grounds.

Dahlan, who is recovering from surgery in Germany on his knees, is now having physiotherapy in a hospital in the Balkans, he said.

Jibril Rajoub, a former security chief and longtime rival of Dahlan, is widely seen as a possible successor.

Rajoub has had good relations in the past with US officials, who have stepped up efforts in recent months to train and equip Abbas’ forces.

Dahlan had already been sidelined after the fall of Gaza six weeks ago in fighting with Hamas in which 100 were killed.

Aides to Abbas said the president expected to receive a report on Friday into events in Gaza that is likely to point out Dahlan’s responsibility for the failures of security there.

Dozens of Fateh security officials may be dismissed after the report is made public, Fateh spokesman Fahmi Zaarir said.

Dahlan told Reuters in June he expected to be blamed for Fateh’s defeat “because I wasn’t there and I’m very close to [Abbas]”.

He added: “Definitely mistakes were made … even myself, I was gone for 50 days” during the surgery.

Abbas’ aide Azzam Ahmed told Reuters on Thursday: “He was fully responsible for the events in Gaza … he feels that he shoulders the responsibility … resignation does not exempt him from responsibility.” US support for Fateh-run security forces has been built up this year —  at first despite international sanctions against the Hamas-led government and now, since Abbas ejected Hamas from government following the rift with Gaza, as part of a wider strategy to bolster Abbas as a bastion against the Islamists.

Dahlan is a fierce opponent of Hamas, and is seen as an obstacle to any reconciliation between the Islamist group and Fateh. Hamas says it acted in Gaza because it believed Dahlan and other Fateh leaders were about to attack the group.

Meanwhile, Israel kept up its raids on fighters’ strongholds, killing at least six in a series of air strikes and ground raids in Gaza, and arresting a leader of Islamic Jihad in the West Bank town of Jenin, Palestinian medics and factions said.

One of those killed, Omar Khatib, a commander of Islamic Jihad, had survived an Israeli attack on Tuesday by jumping out of his car in Gaza City as an Israeli aircraft flew overhead.

Its missile missed its target.

The Israeli military confirmed the air strikes. Two of the strikes killed two Hamas members who had fired at Israeli troops during an incursion to halt rocket firings at the Jewish state. In the other, it said it killed three Islamic Jihad members.

Fighters fired a rocket at Israel during the raid, causing no injury, a military spokeswoman said. The Islamic Jihad group claimed responsibility for the rocket fire.

A sixth Palestinian man was killed in the West Bank when an Israeli soldier struck him with a baton at a military checkpoint as he threatened the unit there with a knife, then scuffled with the troops, a military spokeswoman said.

Violence has been rare in the recent past at the more than 500 checkpoints and roadblocks Israel operates in the West Bank, which restrict Palestinian movement in the territory.

Israel says the restrictions are necessary to prevent suicide bombers from reaching its cities.

At the political level, Abbas said Thursday he hopes to reach a full peace deal with Israel within a year, after Israel’s prime minister floated the idea of starting with a joint declaration on the contours of a Palestinian state.

Abbas spoke to reporters at his headquarters after telling an Israeli newspaper that US President George W. Bush promised him he would push hard to conclude a Mideast agreement before he leaves the White House in January 2009.

Bush is planning an international peace conference in the fall. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is arriving next week for more talks with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders while former British prime minister Tony Blair is settling in as the international Mideast envoy.

Abbas was quoted Thursday by the Israeli daily Maariv — and the comments were later confirmed by his aides — that Bush and Rice told him they’d work hard for a final peace deal within a year.

“The Americans are determined to push the sides to reach a peace agreement during President Bush’s current term,” Abbas was quoted as saying.

“I heard this with my own ears from the president himself and from Secretary of State Rice,” Abbas told the paper.

“They want to reach an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians in the next year.”

Asked Thursday about the US assurances, Abbas told reporters at his headquarters: “We hope to have a comprehensive peace with the Israelis within a year or even less than that.”

Yossi Beilin, the leader of Israel’s dovish Meretz Party, said Abbas told him in a meeting Thursday that he wants to move quickly towards a final peace deal. “If there is an opportunity now, then it’s better to go for the whole thing than a declaration of principles,” Beilin quoted Abbas as saying. Beilin added: “He says we have enough time to prepare for a full peace deal.”

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