Israel readying hit squads

A Palestinian official in Gaza said on Saturday that the Palestinian Authority was taking seriously reports Israel plans to send hit teams into Palestinian-ruled areas and was forming units to carry out assassinations and other operations in self-rule areas . "The Palestinian Authority is taking the necessary security measures in Palestinian controlled areas to face the Israeli attempt to kill and assassinate leaders of the Palestinian nation," he said.

On Friday after a late-night weekly cabinet meeting in the Ramallah West Bank enclave, the Higher Education Minister Hanan Ashrawi: said ``We've discussed the dangerous developments regarding the formation of certain units. For example, for assassinations and kidnapping of Palestinians and interference in Palestinian Authority territory.''

We've been getting certain information on this we're not at liberty to discuss,'' Ashrawi told reporters. ``We're taking this extremely seriously. ``It's another indication of how this (Israeli) government is behaving with total disregard for the peace process,'' she said.

On Sunday, the Palestinian Authority made further revelations that Israel has targeted leader Yasser Arafat and two other prominent officials for assassination. Khassam al-Shaka, mayor of the autonomous West Bank city of Nablus and a member of the PLO's Executive Committee, said that the Palestinians have a copy of an Israeli hit list that includes Arafat's deputy Mahmoud Abbas and Cabinet minister Intissar al-Wazir.

There were several incidents under Israel's previous government in which Palestinians have been assasinated. The most notable recent one was in January 1996 when Yahya Ayyash, of the Islamic militant group Hamas who Israel dubbed the ``Engineer,'' was killed in Gaza when a rigged cellular phone blew up as he used it.