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Israel Assassinates Islamic Jihad Leader

Israel has assassinated an Islamic Jihad leader in the Gaza Strip, prompting another militant group to suspend rocket attacks. The air strikes come as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon fights for his political survival.

Israeli aircraft fired missiles at a car in Gaza City, killing Mohammed Khalil, a leader of the Islamic Jihad group. It was part of a wave of air strikes against Palestinian militants in Gaza, in response to rocket attacks on Israeli towns. In the West Bank, Israeli forces arrested more than 200 members of the Islamic Jihad and the biggest militant group, Hamas.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia demanded a halt to the Israeli raids.

"Really, it is a thing that we cannot understand, and we can say only that Israel wants to kill any attempt to revive the peace process," Mr. Qureia says.

But the militants seemed to get the message. Hamas said it is stopping rocket attacks.

The air strikes came as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon faces a showdown in his ruling Likud party. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hopes to oust Mr. Sharon as Likud leader to punish him for dismantling 21 Gaza settlements. Mr. Netanyahu made his case at a stormy meeting of the hawkish Likud Central Committee.

"The Prime Minister…has created a Hamas terror state in Gaza," Mr. Netanyahu said.

Then, Mr. Sharon stepped up to the podium.

The microphone went dead. The Prime Minister blamed his opponents for torpedoing his speech, and he walked out of the meeting. If the Central Committee sets an early date for electing a new leader, Mr. Sharon is threatening to leave the Likud and form a more moderate party.