- The Washington Times - Friday, September 5, 2003

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas yesterday went public for the first time in his quarrel with Yasser Arafat, telling the Palestinian parliament to either support him or fire him.

As he spoke, hundreds of Arafat supporters outside the building branded him a traitor and several masked men from the crowd forced their way inside and smashed windows before being evicted by guards.

Mr. Abbas’ ultimatum to lawmakers follows a two-week behind-the-scenes struggle with Mr. Arafat for control of Palestinian security services, which had prompted rumors he would step down.

“As you know, I do not cling to this post. I never made and will never make any effort to keep it for myself,” Mr. Abbas said, reading from a prepared speech to mark his first 100 days as prime minister.

“You either back me up to carry out my duties that you entrusted me with, or you take them away,” he said.

Outside, some in a crowd of about 200 protesters cloaked their heads in checkered kaffiyeh scarves and identified themselves as part of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militant wing of Mr. Arafat’s Fatah organization.

The U.S.-backed peace effort depends on Mr. Abbas, as both the United States and Israel refuse to deal directly with Mr. Arafat, whom they consider tainted by terrorism.

The Palestinian prime minister wants the 83-member legislature to reaffirm the mandate it gave him three months ago.

Although 18 lawmakers opposed to Mr. Abbas signed a petition demanding a vote of confidence, the parliament did not set a date for a vote.

Legislators said Mr. Abbas would probably have lost such a ballot if it were held yesterday, forcing him to resign.

Instead, they decided to spend the weekend discussing the prime minister’s future while seeking a way to defuse the situation.

A closed session is scheduled for tomorrow while the next open meeting is slated for Wednesday.

“Wherever there is politics, there will be friction,” said Saeb Erekat, an Arafat associate whose appointment this week as lead peace negotiator was seen as a concession by Mr. Abbas. “I don’t think we are an exception.”

President Bush has publicly embraced Mr. Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, as a Palestinian leader capable of negotiating an end to three years of violence with Israel.

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