GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Hamas, a militant group that espouses suicide attacks and a strict Islamic rule, says it is ready to take over the Palestinian leadership from Yasser Arafat.
The statements on Thursday by a senior Hamas official, Mahmoud Zahar, were a rare public expression of the rising political ambitions of the group as Israel works to weaken Arafat.
Zahar told The Associated Press that the group is "absolutely" prepared to lead the Palestinian people. He said Hamas has the infrastructure to take over leadership "politically, financially [and] socially."
Zahar said Hamas would take over through elections, not by force. Palestinians had elections scheduled for Jan. 20 but postponed them because Israeli troops are in control of most West Bank cities.
Israel's government is working to weaken Arafat, saying that he encourages militants to attack Israel. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has ruled out contacts with Arafat, insisting that other Palestinian leaders are prepared to make peace. Sharon, with the backing of the United States, has demanded that Arafat be replaced or sidelined.
Health-care spendingexpected to double
DALLAS -- Total U.S. health-care spending will more than double in the next 10 years to about $3.1 trillion in 2012, outpacing the anticipated rate of economic expansion, the government said Thursday.
But the spending growth rate will taper from the levels seen in the last two years as the government cracks down on Medicare spending and as individuals more closely watch their health-care dollars, according to the report by the Centers for Medicare & amp; Medicaid Services. That will help tame an expected hike in Medicaid spending brought on by the economic downturn, the report said.
National health spending -- up 8.7 percent in 2001 to $1.4 trillion -- likely posted a narrower growth rate of 8.6 percent last year to $1.54 billion, the agency said. The deceleration will continue this year to 7.3 percent growth in 2003, and it will stay at that rate, on average annually, until 2012. Still, that's higher than the 6.5 percent seen in 1991-2001.
"I guess the numbers weren't that surprising given the current environment," said Perry Cannon, a health-care analyst in the Dallas office of Towers Perrin. "You can look out in the next three to four years and expect a double-digit inflation in health-care spending. But in 2006, the trends will stabilize to sustainable levels."
CIA officer killedin training accident
WASHINGTON -- One CIA officer was killed and two others were injured in a training accident in eastern Afghanistan, agency officials said.
The officer, Helge Boes, was killed Wednesday when a grenade detonated prematurely during a live-fire exercise, CIA officials said in a statement issued Thursday evening.
The injuries to the two other officers were not believed to be life-threatening, although one was wounded seriously. Officials did not identify the officers.
The training was in preparation for an unspecified intelligence collection operation, agency officials said.
Boes, 32, who lived in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, was an operations officer assigned to the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, the agency said.
He is the second CIA officer to die in the line of duty in Afghanistan. The first, paramilitary officer Johnny Micheal Spann, was killed during an uprising of Taliban and Al-Qaida prisoners in northern Afghanistan in Nov. 25, 2001.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A hacker used a University of North Carolina computer system to steal personal financial information from eBay users, federal officials say.
Users of the Internet auction site complained to the FBI that they received fraudulent e-mails during the past week that appeared to come from eBay, said Chris Swecker, who heads the FBI in North Carolina.
The e-mails told recipients their accounts were suspended until they verified some personal information -- including their credit card number and mother's maiden name. A link in the e-mail took users to a Web page appearing to belong to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
A hacker used a university computer server for at least two hours Sunday to post the page before technicians shut it down, said spokeswoman Karin Steinbrenner.
The hacker does not appear to be a UNCC student or employee, Steinbrenner and Swecker said.
Officials at eBay said they've noticed an increase in these fraudulent e-mails since early 2002, spokesman Kevin Pursglove said.