- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 4, 2002

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip A Palestinian court yesterday ordered the release of a militant Muslim who was jailed in a deal freeing Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, but the Cabinet overturned the decision hours later.
The court's decision to free Ahmed Saadat prompted an immediate protest by Israel, which vowed never to let Mr. Saadat go free and was reported to have sent tanks heading toward the West Bank city of Jericho, where he was being held.
The Palestinian Cabinet met and set aside the court decision.
"The Israeli occupation forces closed the city of Jericho immediately after the decision, and had threatened to assassinate" Mr. Saadat, the Cabinet said in a statement.
Early today, Israeli tanks and troops swept into another West Bank city, Jenin, Palestinian security officials and witnesses said. They said troops fired in the air as tanks and armored vehicles rolled in, but there were no immediate reports of clashes with Palestinian gunmen.
Mr. Saadat, a PLO faction leader whose group carried out last year's killing of Israel's tourism minister, has been under U.S. and British supervision at a jail in Jericho since May 1. He was imprisoned with five other Palestinians as part of a deal that ended a 34-day Israeli siege of Mr. Arafat's office in Ramallah in late April.
There was no immediate Israeli reaction to the reversal. After the court ruled, however, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said: "We will take all the necessary steps so that he will not be released."
The court had said that there was no evidence against Mr. Saadat, head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
The dispute regarding Mr. Saadat's incarceration complicated a mission by CIA Director George Tenet, who met with Mr. Sharon at the beginning of a new effort to stop the fighting. Mr. Tenet is seeking assurances from Mr. Arafat that he will revamp the Palestinian security forces to prevent attacks on Israel.
Mr. Sharon repeatedly has said he does not believe Palestinian reforms will be serious as long as Mr. Arafat leads the Palestinian Authority. The Israeli prime minister had been expected to deliver that message to Mr. Tenet.
Mr. Tenet, who arrived yesterday, met with Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer before going to see Mr. Sharon, Israeli radio reported. The CIA chief was to meet with Mr. Arafat today.
In another reminder of the obstacles Mr. Tenet faces, Israeli troops raided the Ain Beit Ilma refugee camp near Nablus, rounding up about 400 men and taking them away for questioning the fourth straight day troops have searched for militants in that part of the northern West Bank.
The Palestinian security services have done little to rein in the militants, and Israel charges that some Palestinian security personnel have been involved in attacks. The Palestinians say Israeli strikes on their installations and travel restrictions have limited their ability to act but there is also widespread acceptance that part of the problem is a lack of control.
Before Mr. Tenet's visit, Mr. Arafat held discussions on streamlining his multiple, overlapping security forces, which include about a dozen different agencies. Mr. Arafat is expected to reduce them to four branches. The competing security forces have created fierce rivalries among the security chiefs, and some will lose out if Mr. Arafat slashes the number of senior posts.
In Washington, it was announced yesterday that Mr. Sharon will see President Bush in a hastily arranged meeting at the White House next week, just after Mr. Bush's weekend talks about the Middle East situation with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
The United States and European nations have contributed millions of dollars to the Palestinian security forces, and are expected to give millions more. But they also are expected to monitor closely how the Palestinians go about overhauling the forces.
Mr. Tenet is on a six-nation Middle East tour to gauge Arab support for changes in the Palestinian Authority.
Palestinian sources said Mr. Arafat is likely to remain in charge of the restructured security forces. Despite his pledge to make changes, Mr. Arafat faces a diverse group of critics. They include many Palestinians, who are highly critical of corruption in their government; the United States, which wants to see greater democracy; and the Israelis, whose top priority is a halt to the attacks.
The militant Islamic group Hamas, meanwhile, rejected an offer by Mr. Arafat to join a new, more compact Palestinian Cabinet that has been under discussion and will be announced in coming days.
Mr. Arafat has offered Cabinet posts to four militant groups that have been involved in attacks, including suicide bombings, against Israel. All have rejected the proposal.
Of the more than 60 suicide attacks by Palestinians in the latest Middle East uprising, Hamas' military wing has carried out more than any other group, including the deadliest attacks. The group has rejected Mr. Arafat's call to halt them.


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