Sources in the Israeli military establishment say that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is at an all-time political low since taking over from Yasser Arafat in November 2004. Some Israeli intelligence officials believe he is considering resigning.

Senior Israel Defense Forces officials and Shin Bet security service officials have said recently during internal discussions that Abbas is impotent to enforce his directives, especially on the security front.

Abbas is barely on speaking terms with some security officials, and when he succeeds in issuing an order it is not implemented, they said.

Abbas even said that the Qassam rockets being fired from the Gaza Strip at Israel are "Israel's problem" and that he does not intend to interfere. "Let the Israelis deal with it," he said.

The Israeli officials say that apart from deploying national security forces along the border with Israel in northern Gaza, no action has been taken against the Qassams. Even though there are nearly 30,000 men in arms under the PA's banner, they have not been able to enforce their will on the Islamic Jihad and the other militant groups involved in launching the rockets.

The Israeli officials attribute the continuing launches, including the recent focus on Ashkelon and environs, to specific directives from the headquarters of the Islamic Jihad in Damascus.