Hopes for Middle East peace suffered a blow again

Moderate Palestinian leader &to=http:// english.pravda.ru/diplomatic/2003/02/21/43571.html ' target=_blank>Mahmoud Abbas's chances of winning a presidential election to replace Yasser Arafat appeared to be sealed after his main rival Marwan Barghouthi pulled out of the race.

But hopes of &to=http:// english.pravda.ru/columnists/2002/04/05/27369.html ' target=_blank>Middle East peace, raised since Arafat's death in Paris on Nov. 11, suffered a blow when militants burrowed under an Israeli post on the Gaza-Egypt border to kill four soldiers in the deadliest attack on the army for seven months.

The militants set off 1,500 kg of explosives in a tunnel dug under the army post, turning some buildings into a pile of rubble and setting others on fire.

The militant Islamic group &to=http:// english.pravda.ru/usa/2002/05/04/28204.html ' target=_blank>Hamas and an armed group in Fatah claimed responsibility for the multi-pronged attack at the Rafah crossing to Egypt in which gunmen charged at wounded soldiers as militants in Rafah pounded the army post with mortar bombs, says ABC News.

It is the deadliest attack since Yasser Arafat's death a month ago, and could reverse Israel's plans for withdrawing from occupied Gaza just as they were gaining momentum.

Hamas and a body known as the Fatah Hawks have both admitted responsibility, the Fatah group saying it was avenging the "assassination" of Arafat.

This refers to rumours widespread among Palestinians that their veteran leader was poisoned, reports iTV News.

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