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Palestinian Authority appoints a militant to a top security post

JERUSALEM—The Palestinian Authority appointed one of Israel's most wanted militants to a top security post on Thursday, a move that Israeli and American officials denounced as a sign that the Hamas-led government still supports terrorism.

Jamal Abu Samhadana is a Gaza Strip militant who survived an Israeli assassination attempt and leads a group still actively involved in launching rudimentary rockets into Israel.

In his new job with the Interior Ministry, Samhadana will help oversee a new team of militants the government said would be called on to contain unchecked lawlessness in the Gaza Strip.

Samhadana's appointment could increase tensions between the Hamas-dominated cabinet and the more moderate Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas and Hamas have been wrestling for control over the 60,000-strong security forces.

Earlier this month, Abbas appointed a strong ally to a top post in the Interior Ministry, a move viewed as directly undermining Hamas' appointee as interior minister, Said Siyam.

Now Hamas is turning to Samhadana.

"This is . . . a demonstration of the true nature and the true tactics of this particular Hamas-led government," said U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington.

As leader of the Popular Resistance Committees, Samhadana has established himself as one of the more combative and popular Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

During the second Palestinian uprising, Samhadana's group staged a trio of attacks that for the first time exposed the vulnerability of Israeli tanks.

In 2003, Palestinian police arrested four members of the group and accused them of orchestrating a 2003 attack on a U.S. diplomatic convoy that killed three Americans. But the suspects were later released for lack of evidence and the United States has long criticized the Palestinian government for not pursing the case.

A year later, Israel tried to assassinate Samhadana by launching a rocket at his car while it was driving through the Gaza Strip.

Last fall, members of Samhadana's group claimed responsibility for the assassination of a former Palestinian security chief, Moussa Arafat, who was a cousin of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Samhadana denied that his forces were behind the killing.

Since then, the group has continued to launch rockets into Israel from the northern Gaza Strip.

In an interview with Knight Ridder Newspapers last fall at a Gaza Strip safe house, Samhadana said all Israelis were legitimate targets.

"All of Israel is a military base," he said at the time. "All the Israeli people are soldiers in the Israeli army."

On Thursday, a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees said Samhadana's appointment wouldn't affect the group's tactics.

"We hope that with the appointment of the commander we will all help the Palestinian government and the Interior Ministry to ensure the security of the public and the security of its property and aid in imposing order and security in the territories of the Palestinian Authority," committee spokesman Abu Abir told the Ynet Israeli media Web site. "But all of these things will not prevent us and other resistance organizations from continuing to resist, in an organized manner, the occupation and its crimes."

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(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTO (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): SAMHADANA

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