Arafat has not yet accepted the resignation in writing of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas as required by law, but told Palestinian lawmakers he considered Abbas’ cabinet a caretaker government, implying recognition of the resignation.

On Sunday, however, an Arafat aide said the leader hoped to persuade Abbas – also known as Abu Mazen – to remain and form a new government.

Meantime Hamas leaders are “marked for death” and won’t have a moment’s rest, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon warned Sunday, after Israel failed in an attempt to kill the top echelon of Hamas with a 250-kilogram bomb dropped on a Gaza City apartment.

Hamas threatened unprecedented revenge, with spokesman Abdel Aziz Rantisi saying Israel had “opened the gates of hell” with the attack on Hamas founder, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, who escaped with a minor injury.

Israel declared a high security alert and imposed a blanket closure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Security officials said the Shin Bet security service tightened protection of Israeli leaders.

“They are marked for death,” Sharon was quoted as saying, referring to Hamas leaders. “We won’t give them a moment’s rest. We will continue to hunt them because they have only one objective: the destruction of Israel.”

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