Palestinian officials grapple with unrest

Arafat again rejects resignation of premier

July 19, 2004|By Ken Ellingwood | Ken Ellingwood,LOS ANGELES TIMES

JERUSALEM - Palestinian leaders struggled yesterday to resolve the political confusion triggered by the prime minister's attempt to resign, as fresh unrest erupted in the Gaza Strip over Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's decision to grant a cousin expanded powers over security forces.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, Arafat met with disgruntled Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and again rejected his resignation submitted the day before, according to Saeb Erekat, a Cabinet member.

Earlier yesterday, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip burned down a building belonging to a Palestinian Authority military intelligence service amid anger over Moussa Arafat being granted broad authority over security services as part of a sudden shake-up.

Late in the day, Israeli television reported that militants in Rafah had stormed the compound belonging to the intelligence service, which Moussa Arafat headed before being named Saturday as security chief. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

During yesterday's meeting of the Palestinian National Security Council, Erekat said, Yasser Arafat "rejected totally" the resignation offered by Qureia, who had noted the worsening chaos in the Gaza Strip and within the Palestinian security forces.

That session was followed by a gathering of Palestinian leaders, including from Yasser Arafat's Fatah political movement, whose younger members have grown restive over misrule and his tight grip on the government and security forces.

The future of the Palestinian government may become clearer after a Cabinet meeting today. One possibility is that Yasser Arafat might allow Qureia to form a new Cabinet by shedding members the prime minister sees as obstructions to reforms he has sought unsuccessfully to make.

Hani Hassan, a Fatah leader and close Arafat ally, said Qureia would continue serving and had been invited to suggest names for a new Cabinet.

Qureia's effort to quit came after two Palestinian security officials, including the police chief of Gaza, and four French citizens were briefly abducted Friday by Palestinian militants.

"We have a major crisis," Erekat told reporters yesterday. "The lawlessness we witnessed in our streets must come to an end. Every effort is being exerted to restore public order."

The Palestinian political turmoil comes as Israel is making plans to remove Jewish settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip by the end of next year, creating the prospect of a power vacuum there.

Armed Palestinian groups have stepped up activities in Gaza since Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon proposed the evacuation plan, which calls for a phased withdrawal from all 21 of the area's settlements and four others in the West Bank.

Israel's possible departure also has highlighted fissures within Palestinian politics, already rife with personal rivalries and disenchantment over corruption and cronyism in the decade-old Palestinian Authority, formed as part of the 1993 Oslo accords.

The designation of Moussa Arafat as general security chief for the Gaza Strip is part of a broader move by Yasser Arafat to regroup a hodgepodge of a dozen police agencies into three branches. Detractors view Moussa Arafat as corrupt.

The Aqsa Martyrs Brigades said its militants had burned down an intelligence services outpost in a refugee camp in Khan Yunis. In a statement, the militant group, an armed offshoot of Fatah, called on Moussa Arafat to leave the job to someone with "a clean hand."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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