Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Abbas Quits, Road Map Falters

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Mahmoud Abbas submitted his resignation as Palestinian prime minister Saturday, and Israel tried to kill the spiritual leader of Hamas with an airstrike in Gaza City, as the U.S. drive for Middle East peace appeared in danger of disintegrating.

Some of Abbas' associates held out hope that by provoking what Palestinian politicians called a dire crisis within the leadership, he would revive a peace plan that they said was all but dead already.

Similarly, Israeli officials, saying they had struck at the "head of the snake" by attacking the Hamas leader, argued that eliminating Hamas was necessary to pursue peace in the Middle East. But both developments seemed to present the chance of moving the adversaries toward spiraling violence.

"It seems that we are entering a crisis,'' Qadoura Fares, a Palestinian legislator, said after Abbas resigned, but before the airstrike. "And it seems that the price of this crisis will be a lot of blood."

The attack on the Hamas leader, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, in which 15 people, including children, were wounded, prompted vows of retaliation from Hamas. Israel, which used a 248-kilogram bomb dropped from a warplane, said it struck not only at Sheik Yassin but also Hamas terrorists meeting with him.

A senior Israeli security official said the attack failed because the air force used a "relatively small bomb" to minimize civilian casualties.

Already under severe threat from Israel, Hamas came under new pressure from Europe on Saturday. European Union foreign ministers denounced the group's political wing as a terrorist organization, opening the way for Europe to freeze the group's assets.

U.S. President George W. Bush had embraced Abbas, 68, as an alternative leader to Yasser Arafat, one who was willing and able to champion the peace plan, called the road map. But Palestinian politicians and analysts said Arafat emerged from the struggle strengthened, at least temporarily, with a public that, before Abbas's elevation, had shown signs of wearying of him.

Arafat, 74, the president of the governing Palestinian Authority, accepted Abbas' resignation, two Palestinian ministers said. Yet some Palestinian and Israeli officials said the crisis might force Arafat to reappoint Abbas with more authority, to keep the peace effort alive.

"I hope the climax of the crisis will pave the way for new ground rules of understanding between the president and the prime minister,'' said Ziad Abu Amr, a Palestinian minister and political scientist. He and other Palestinian officials said that if Abbas, a longtime leader of Arafat's Fatah faction, was unable to effectively fill the post of prime minister, no one else would be able to do so either.

Abbas, who was described as worn out and sad, blamed Israel, the Bush administration and Arafat for undermining his government and his efforts for peace.

He lay the blame primarily with Israel, saying, "The fundamental problem was Israel's unwillingness to implement its commitments in the road map." He said Washington had not pressed Israel enough. But in a clear swipe at Arafat and the rest of the Palestinian leadership, he also complained about a "lack of support" for his government and "harsh and dangerous domestic incitement against the government.

Right-wing Israeli ministers seized on Abbas' resignation as evidence that Arafat was obstructing the peace effort and should be deported.