CBSN

New Blast Clouds Mideast Future

2003/9/8 Ahmed Qureia headshot, as Palestinian Parliament speaker, video still
AP
Israel indicated Tuesday it would be willing to work with Ahmed Qureia as the new Palestinian prime minister, despite his close ties with veteran leader Yasser Arafat.

However, an explosion was reported Tuesday evening at a bus stop near a military base and hospital outside Tel Aviv, with at least 30 people reported injured, many seriously. Israeli Army Radio reported that the body of suicide bomber was found at scene of the attack, near the Tzrifin military base. No further details were immediately available.

Israel initially said after the weekend resignation of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas that it would not deal with a successor handpicked by Arafat. However, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's aides said Tuesday that Qureia could be a partner if he carries out the Palestinians' obligations under a U.S.-backed peace plan, including disarming militants.

"When we have a partner on the other side who is determined to take action against terrorism, then he will find Israel more than forthcoming," said Israeli spokesman Jonathan Peled.

However, Israelis don't expect that to happen, so the prospects for ending three years of conflict appear slim, reports CBS News Correspondent Robert Berger.

For his part, Qureia told Israel's Haaretz newspaper that he wants to achieve a comprehensive cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians, not just the "hudna" that militant groups agreed to for two months this summer.

However, he is not optimistic about success if he doesn't have international support.

"I want to see the Americans, what kind of guarantees, what kind of support they will give," he said.

In the West Bank city of Hebron, a 12-year-old Palestinian boy was killed by shrapnel from an Israeli tank shell fired at a suspected militants' hideout, witnesses said.

Israeli troops surrounded a seven-story apartment building early Tuesday, apparently in search of wanted men from the Islamic militant group Hamas. The Israeli military did not say who the target of the raid was.

A gun battle erupted and troops blew up a car, witnesses said. Later, soldiers fired several tank shells at the building, witnesses said. Twelve-year-old Thaher Siyouri, who was watching the fighting with his family from the third-floor of a nearby building, was killed — according to hospital doctors by shrapnel from a tank shell that hit his head and neck.

Witnesses said the army sent two Palestinians into the building at one point, apparently to search it. Israel's Supreme Court has outlawed the practice of using Palestinian civilians as "human shields." The Israeli had no immediate comment on the report. In a similar raid in the West Bank city of Nablus on Friday, witnesses also reported that troops used human shields.

Qureia, the Palestinian parliament speaker and one of the key people who helped negotiate the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian Oslo accord, was tapped Sunday by Arafat to replace Abbas.

Qureia has accepted the post in principle, but says Israel must take action on a U.S.-backed peace plan and that both sides must commit to a cease-fire if he is to succeed. Qureia, also known as Abu Ala, warned that unless Israel lessens its hostility to Arafat and ends lethal airstrikes on militant leaders, he'd be doomed to failure.

It's not for Israel to say who will govern the Palestinians, he told Haaretz.

"I don't tell you whether [right-wing] ministers [Avigdor] Lieberman or [Effi] Eitam should sit in the government," said Qureia. "You must remember that Yasser Arafat is our chosen president, and he's the one who appointed me as the leader of the new government."

Raanan Gissin, a senior adviser to Ariel Sharon, said the Palestinian leadership must halt violence and choose the path of peace if it wants Israel to cooperate.

"The name doesn't matter here ... the policy matters, the strategy matters," Gissin told reporters traveling with Sharon, who is visiting India. "If they will be willing to participate in the process ... they can always call us, they know the phone number."

Sharon's aides, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Qureia could be a partner.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Monday: "It will be critical that the new Cabinet continues to press for reforms and continues to fight terrorism," he said.

For nearly two years, Israel has effectively confined Arafat to his West Bank headquarters with military sieges and threats that if Arafat goes abroad he won't be allowed to return.

"I don't want failure," said Qureia, who is a close ally of Arafat but also has credibility with Israel as a moderate. "It's the Israeli government that brought down the previous government."

Abbas, appointed in April under Israeli and U.S. pressure, was unpopular among Palestinians precisely because he was backed by Israel and frequently wrangled with Arafat. He resigned after Arafat refused to put the security services under his control.

But Abbas also said the main problem in his four turbulent months in office was Israeli noncompliance with the so-called "road map" peace plan, which envisions a Palestinian state by 2005.

Israel has ignored clauses that require it to dismantle settlement outposts established since 2001 and withdraw from West Bank areas it reoccupied during the past three years of fighting.

The plan also requires the Palestinians to dismantle militant groups, but Abbas refused to use force to achieve this for fear it would spark internal conflict. Instead, Abbas appealed in vain to the militant groups to voluntarily lay down their arms.

The militant groups declared a temporary end to attacks on Israelis in June. But some attacks continued, as did Israeli arrest sweeps against militants. After a Hamas suicide bombing that killed 22 people in Jerusalem last month, Israel launched a campaign of airstrikes against its leaders. The truce fell apart and the road map was left in tatters.

Since then, Israel has killed 12 Hamas members, including a senior political leader, and in an unprecedented strike on Saturday a warplane dropped a bomb on a house, lightly injuring the group's revered founder, Sheik Ahmed Yassin. Five bystanders also have been killed in the strikes.