JERUSALEM - The appointment of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas marks a "quiet revolution" in Palestinian leadership that could lead to an end of 31 months of violence, Israel's army chief said Wednesday, but three Palestinians, including a baby, were killed in separate incidents.
Abbas, meanwhile, flatly rejected a new Israeli condition for peace talks, outlining a confrontation that could delay or even scuttle implementation of a new international peace initiative.
Israeli army gunfire killed a 1-year-old Palestinian boy in the Khan Younis refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip, witnesses and doctors said.
Army spokesman Jacob Dalal said soldiers at an outpost guarding Israeli settlements had come under fire from Palestinians and returned fire.
Later, a Palestinian was shot and killed in Gaza. The militant Islamic Hamas said Ahmed Gouda, 18, was on an "operation" in northern Gaza when he was shot dead, apparently by Israeli soldiers.
In the West Bank, a Hamas fugitive was killed in a mysterious explosion in a house in Zawata, a village near the Nablus. Hamas blamed Israel, but local firefighters said the blast went off inside the house, ruling out an Israeli missile attack.
After more than 21/2 years of violence, the Israeli army chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, said the end might be in sight.
In an interview on Army Radio on Israel's Independence Day, Yaalon said Abbas' appointment marked a "quiet revolution" in the Palestinian leadership, promoting leaders who oppose violence. Yaalon credited stiff Israeli measures against the militants for persuading many Palestinians to stop attacks.Abbas turned down a condition set by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that the Palestinians must renounce their claim that all refugees and their descendants, about 4-million people, have the right to return to homes they left behind in the war that followed Israel's creation. Sharon said dropping the claim was a condition for moving ahead in peace talks. Commander faces charges in Russian copter crash
MOSCOW - The office of Russia's military prosecutor has filed criminal charges against an army commander stemming from the crash of a mammoth military helicopter in Chechnya last August and acknowledged that the death toll was higher than previously reported, officials said Wednesday.
The helicopter, grossly overloaded with at least 147 passengers, was shot down by Chechen fighters on Aug. 19.
In announcing the first criminal charges related to the crash, Russia's chief military prosecutor, Lt. Gen. Alexander N. Savenkov, said 127 passengers and crew members died, six more than previously reported. A spokesman in the prosecutor's office said six had died later from injuries.
Lt. Col. Anatoly Kudyakov, commander of the helicopter regiment that included the one that crashed, will be prosecuted on charges of negligence and violations of flight restrictions.Elsewhere . . .
JAPAN TO LAUNCH SHUTTLE: Japan's space agency said Wednesday it will test launch a reusable, unmanned shuttle. The brief flight tests, planned between late May and July 24 at a facility in Kiruna, Sweden, intend to measure the pressure that can stabilize the shuttle, which travels at the speed of sound, said National Space Development Agency spokesman Hiroshi Inoue.
The shuttle, which is much smaller than the U.S. space shuttle, is the prototype for Japan's 20-year-old program to develop a reusable, unmanned space vehicle.
ANGOLA SANCTIONS LIFTED: Now that the country's civil war has ended, President Bush has lifted Clinton-era sanctions against Angola's UNITA organization, the former rebel group that has become a political party.
The main effect of the action is that it allows transactions by UNITA members with U.S. financial organizations.