Qureia likely to lead past interim term

Palestinian prime minister had hinted he would quit


JERUSALEM - Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, who threatened to quit this month only days after taking his job on an emergency basis, now appears likely to lead a more permanent government, Palestinian officials said yesterday.

But Qureia has yet to resolve a fundamental dispute with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat over who will have ultimate authority for the Palestinian security forces, the officials said.

Qureia's one-month term as head of the emergency government expires in a week, and whether he will stay has been open to question.

But leaders of Arafat's Fatah movement met in the West Bank city of Ramallah yesterday, and Qureia "agreed to form an enlarged government and he will present it to parliament at the end of the current Cabinet's mandate," said Nabil Shaath, the Palestinian foreign minister.

"We do not want any more time wasted," Shaath said, adding that Arafat asked the prime minister to continue in the post.

But Qureia was more cautious. "As things stand now, I have not been asked, but if things proceed in a positive way, I will continue," said Qureia, a longtime associate of Arafat's who has served as speaker of parliament for the past seven years.

If Qureia can win approval for a full-fledged government from the legislature, it could relieve some of the political uncertainty affecting the Palestinians in recent months.

When the prime minister's position was established in the spring, it had widespread backing from Palestinians. In addition, it offered the United States and Israel a way to work around Arafat. They have shunned the Palestinian leader, but say they will work with a Palestinian prime minister who possesses real authority.

Qureia's predecessor, Mahmoud Abbas, lasted only four months in the job before resigning on Sept. 6. He also battled Arafat over control of the security forces, powers Arafat has always reserved for himself.

Abbas' appointment was greeted with considerable fanfare, including summits with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel and President Bush. While Qureia is widely respected and has a long history of negotiating with the Israelis, he cannot expect such a warm welcome.

Israel has frozen contacts with the Palestinian leadership and says it will not deal with Qureia unless he first acts against violent Palestinian factions.

At a White House news conference yesterday, Bush praised Abbas. "Unfortunately he's no longer in power," the president said. "He was eased out of power, and I do not see the same commitment to fight terror from the old guard."

Qureia, like his predecessor, has said he will not send the security forces out to arrest Palestinian militants. Qureia says his aim is to negotiate a cease-fire with Israel as a way to revive the Middle East peace plan.

Yesterday, Israeli border police attempting to arrest a wanted Palestinian, Ibrahim al-Naneesh, shot him to death in an exchange of fire in the West Bank town of Tulkarm, the military said. Naneesh, a member of Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, was involved in multiple shootings against Israeli civilians and soldiers, the military added.

Arafat installed Qureia by decree on Oct. 5, and a seven-man Cabinet was sworn in two days later.

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