- The Washington Times - Monday, August 25, 2003

JERUSALEM — Yasser Arafat appointed a new national security adviser yesterday, an apparent bid to reassert control over Palestinian security forces and undermine his prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas.

Mr. Arafat is locked in a struggle for control of the Palestinian security forces with Mr. Abbas, who has Washington’s backing and is under pressure to crack down on Palestinian militants after a Hamas suicide bombing last week. The bombing and Israel’s response has thrown the U.S.-backed “road map” peace plan into turmoil.

In Gaza City, Hamas supporters warned Israel to “prepare coffins” after burying four militants killed in an Israeli missile strike Sunday, just four days after a similar strike killed a senior Hamas leader.

Mr. Abbas’ Cabinet had no direct say in Mr. Arafat’s decision to appoint Brig. Gen. Jibril Rajoub and establish a new national security council, which Mr. Arafat will chair.

Gen. Rajoub said the security council will oversee “reform of the security forces and its leadership.” But he refused to discuss the scope or timing of its work. “Let’s wait and see. We’re still starting up,” he said.

Israel and the United States want Palestinian authorities to unify their security forces in order to dismantle the armed groups — a key provision of the road map. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell last week appealed in vain to Mr. Arafat to give Mr. Abbas full authority over security so he can clamp down on Islamic militants.

Mr. Abbas was appointed in April under heavy U.S. and Israeli pressure to find an alternative to Mr. Arafat. But he has been reluctant to crack down on militants, fearing it could spark civil war among Palestinians.

Mr. Arafat fired Gen. Rajoub from his role as West Bank security chief in July 2002 after an argument. But Gen. Rajoub and Mr. Abbas’ security chief, Mohammed Dahlan, are also adversaries, and it appeared Mr. Arafat was trying to use Gen. Rajoub in his campaign to undermine Mr. Abbas’ fledgling government.

Ghassan Khatib, a minister in Mr. Abbas’ Cabinet, said the appointment was baffling and acknowledged Gen. Rajoub’s presence at Mr. Arafat’s side could further complicate relations between Mr. Arafat and Mr. Abbas.

Gen. Rajoub said the council would “oversee cooperation” with the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union, the four backers of the peace plan.

Israel says it has not abandoned the peace plan. But Army chief Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon said on Sunday that every member of Hamas was now “a potential target for liquidation,” underlining the tough new Israeli policy adopted after the Hamas bus bombing in Jerusalem last week that killed 21 persons.

Its strike Sunday killed Ahmed Aishtawi, a top Hamas operative, as well as three others close to the crowded beachfront in Gaza City.

Some of the victims were decapitated by the assault, and more than a dozen bystanders were injured. Hamas was defiant.

“Our response will be painful and quick,” the Hamas military wing, Izzedine al Qassam, said in a statement.

Last night, Hamas distributed a five-point list of instructions at Gaza mosques on how militants could avoid Israeli air strikes.

The statements, carrying a Hamas logo, urged fighters to avoid making appointments by cell phone for fear of Israeli eavesdroppers, to avoid traveling by car, especially in groups on main streets, and to use makeup and clothes to disguise themselves.

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