Gunman fires on Palestinian PM

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The Independent Online

A Palestinian gunman opened fire for two minutes yesterday with an M-16 automatic rifle on a sports club where Ahmad Qureia, the Palestinian Prime Minister, was meeting 500 supporters in the volatile Balata refugee camp near the West Bank town of Nablus.

As Mr Qureia was beating a hasty retreat in his official car, an explosion was heard about 300 metres away. The Prime Minister, who had come to appeal for a return to law and order, was accompanied by Nasser Yusuf, the Interior Minister, and Salam Fayyad, the Finance Minister. Only their pride was hurt.

The gunman, Mahmoud Hatib, a 21-year-old member of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, affiliated to the mainstream al-Fatah movement, was recently released from an Israeli jail. Witnesses said that dozens of Palestinian security men there to guard Mr Qureia made no attempt to arrest him. Camp residents hailed him as a hero.

Hatib told reporters that he was protesting at the neglect that he and his father, who spent 21 years in an Israeli prison, had suffered at the hands of the Palestinian Authority.

"Officials live in luxury," he complained, "while people like us, who have given so much for Palestine, have got nothing."

Taysir Nasrallah, a member of the Palestine National Council who was present at the meeting, protested: "The government has an army. Why aren't they using it? They have to show that they are willing to restore order."