- The Washington Times - Friday, July 5, 2002

From combined dispatches
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat formally fired his security chief in the West Bank yesterday, aides said, in the first signs of a high-level shake-up carried out under intense U.S. pressure for reform.
But political upheaval within the Palestinian ranks was quickly overshadowed by violence at home and abroad.
A car bomb killed two suspected Palestinian militants in Gaza, and thousands of miles away at Los Angeles International Airport, three persons were shot and killed at the ticket desk of Israel's El Al airlines.
A senior Palestinian official said Jibril Rajoub, powerful head of the Palestinian Preventive Service in the West Bank and once considered a potential successor to the 73-year-old Mr. Arafat, was served dismissal papers by the Palestinian leader yesterday.
Mr. Arafat had decided on Wednesday to shunt Mr. Rajoub to Jenin as governor of the northern West Bank city and appoint the incumbent there, Zuhair Manasra, as the new preventive security chief in the West Bank, the official said.
The Palestinian police chief, Ghazi Jabali, meanwhile, resigned to challenge Mr. Arafat for the presidency of the Palestinian Authority in elections six months away, a senior security source said. But Mr. Jabali's chances looked dim.
Confusion over Mr. Rajoub's status had swirled after he denied strong rumors on Wednesday that he had been fired, but said he would step down if so ordered in writing by Mr. Arafat.
Mr. Rajoub's reputation suffered after he slipped out of his West Bank headquarters hours before the Israeli army laid siege to it in April and netted a number of militants involved in an uprising for independence backed by the Palestinian leadership.
Mr. Manasra, the Jenin governor, said he received a decree from Mr. Arafat yesterday naming him West Bank security chief.
Disarray in the Palestinian hierarchy overshadowed a relaxation of curfews in four of seven West Bank cities.
Palestinians emerged from their homes to try to stock up on supplies before the Israeli army reimposed curfews by nightfall.
In Palestinian-ruled Gaza City, a car bomb killed two suspected militants of the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an offshoot of Mr. Arafat's Fatah movement.
A Palestinian official identified one of the two men as Wael Namera, a 27-year-old lieutenant in the Palestinian Authority's preventive security forces.
He said police suspected Israeli agents planted a bomb in the car, but that officers were still collecting information. The Israeli army had no immediate comment.
Meanwhile, senior Israeli officials said yesterday that nearly all of Israel's most-wanted terror suspects in the West Bank have been arrested or killed and the country's security forces are now searching for lower-level activists.
The Islamic extremist group Hamas denied Israel has made a dent in its higher echelons, but the Israeli officials indicated otherwise.
"There's no doubt the top brass of the Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Tanzim [militias] by and large are either in custody or have been eliminated," an official said.
Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, said Israel arrested some Hamas activists, but had not penetrated the group's highest ranks.
"They will never succeed in halting the martyrs' operations," he said, referring to suicide bombings.
Israeli officials would not say how many top wanted militants had been arrested or killed or how many remain at large.


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