Islamic Jihad Says Follower Behind West Bank Shooting

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A follower of Islamic Jihad (search) carried out a weekend shooting attack on a West Bank (search) settlement at the start of Jewish New Year celebrations that killed an Israeli man and a baby girl, the group said Sunday.

Islamic Jihad stop short of claiming responsibility, but group members identified the gunman as Mahmoud Hamdan (search), 22, a well-known Islamic Jihad activist recently released from an Israeli jail. Hamdan was killed by Israeli troops in the attack.

There was no immediate Israeli reaction the possibility that Islamic Jihad was behind the attack or to the new Palestinian Cabinet (search).

On Saturday, Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction agreed on a new Cabinet, naming a longtime ally of the Palestinian leader to replace a key security official whom Israel and the United States had hoped would rein in Palestinian militants.

With the ouster of security chief Mohammed Dahlan, it appears even less likely the Palestinian security forces will dismantle militant groups, as required under the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan.

The shooting Friday was the first deadly attack by a militant groups since twin suicide bombings in Israel on Sept. 9 killed 15 people.

Two days after the bombings, Israel's security Cabinet decided to "remove" Arafat, an intentionally vague term that could mean either expulsion or assassination. Although Israel has not given a timetable, it is believed a major Palestinian attack could trigger action against Arafat.

Israel says Arafat has done nothing to stop militant groups from killing Israelis but Sharon has reportedly told Cabinet ministers the threat against the Palestinian leader had helped stem attacks until Friday.

Armed with an M-16, Hamdan sneaked into the settlement of Negahot where residents were celebrating the start of the New Year, knocked on the door of a trailer home and shot and killed a 30-year-old man and a 7-month-old girl.

Soldiers guarding Negahot, a settlement near the West Bank city of Hebron, killed Hamdan before he could escape. The girl's parents were lightly injured in the shooting.

Hamdan, from Dura, a village south of Hebron, was to be buried later Sunday, relatives said. He was released two months ago from an Israeli jail after serving a 14-month sentence, they said, but would not say what he was convicted of.

The shooting at Negahot came a day after Israeli troops targeted Islamic Jihad militants in raids in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, killing four members of the group. An Israeli soldier was also killed.

Israel and the United States have tried to sideline Arafat, accusing him of encouraging terror attacks and obstructing peace efforts. But the veteran leader retains significant power, and the incoming Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qureia, gave Arafat-controlled Fatah considerable say in forming the Cabinet.

A number of the 23 ministers agreed upon Saturday by Fatah officials are longtime Arafat allies, including Maj. Gen. Nasser Yousef, who as the incoming interior minister will be in charge of the security forces, said Palestinian officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The previous prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, held the title of interior minister, but Dahlan was effectively the security chief. Though he balked at cracking down on militants during he tenure, Dahlan enjoyed the support of the United States.

But Abbas resigned on Sept. 6 after a turbulent four months in office marked by repeated clashes with Arafat over control of the security forces. Arafat commanded four branches, and Abbas — as interior minister — controlled the other four.

Qureia will likely not face the same dilemma. Under a new arrangement, Arafat heads a 12-member national security council that will set policy and work with the interior minister. Yousef has worked with Arafat for nearly four decades.

Israel has said it will not work with a Cabinet controlled by Arafat. However, Sharon has said Qureia will be judged on his deeds.

Other Arafat allies named to the Cabinet include Yasser Abed Rabbo, whom Abbas kept out of his government, and Saeb Erekat, who resigned in May after being caught in a power struggle between Arafat and Abbas, officials said.

Two ministers with international support, Nabil Shaath and Salam Fayad, kept their jobs as foreign and finance ministers, respectively. officials said.

Fatah also named several younger leaders to the Cabinet, including Jawad Tibi, a popular Palestinian lawmaker from the Gaza Strip who is to be health minister, officials said.

Several smaller factions were also represented, though major opposition groups, particularly the Islamic militant Hamas, stuck to their refusal to join the Palestinian Authority.

The remaining one to three slots will be filled in coming days, and the Cabinet then will be presented to the Palestinian parliament for approval, officials said.