Arafat denies crisis as Gaza fumes

Amid political upheaval, police station set ablaze

men briefly seize building

July 25, 2004|By Ken Ellingwood | Ken Ellingwood,LOS ANGELES TIMES

JERUSALEM - Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat denied yesterday that his government was in crisis, even as fresh unrest in the Gaza Strip added to the turbulence buffeting the Palestinian government.

In one incident yesterday, unknown arsonists set fire to a police station in a neighborhood south of Gaza City, and in another, militants temporarily took over a municipal government building.

Meanwhile, in his first public comments during more than a week of turmoil, Arafat told reporters that he had confidence in the continued leadership of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, who submitted his resignation July 17, only to have Arafat reject it.

The Palestinian Authority president, speaking briefly at his compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah, denied blocking governmental reforms - particularly of the security forces - and declared that Qureia had full authority to make changes he desired.

In submitting his resignation, Qureia noted rising lawlessness in the streets of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He has been frustrated by his powerlessness to make needed reforms to the police and military forces, which have traditionally been under Arafat's direct control.

Qureia has sought to shift more authority to the Cabinet - a move Arafat has resisted. Arafat has also been under international pressure to reform the security forces. He agreed last week to streamline an often-confusing structure by consolidating a dozen overlapping agencies into three branches.

The standoff over the resignation has left the Palestinian government in confusion. Qureia declared that while he stands by his resignation, he would remain prime minister in a caretaker capacity.

Arafat has faced additional challenges to his authority, including a resolution by the Palestinian Parliament calling on him to make reforms and cede more authority to the prime minister and Cabinet.

In addition, violent protests broke out in Gaza within Arafat's Fatah movement over his decision to appoint his cousin as security chief there. The protests have highlighted a power struggle by focusing long-brewing criticism among younger Fatah members over misrule and cronyism within the Palestinian Authority.

Seeking to dampen the protests over Moussa Arafat, Arafat named a military general to oversee the security forces in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in effect adding a layer of authority above his unpopular cousin.

But there was new disruption yesterday, as about 50 militants belonging to Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades took over the municipal government building in the city of Khan Younis to protest the firings of about 10 of the group's members from security posts. The men also demanded that Moussa Arafat resign as security chief.

The militants agreed to end the standoff a few hours later after gaining assurances that officials would discuss the firings in hopes of resolving the dispute.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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