- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2003

GAZA CITY, Gaza, March 19 (UPI) — Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, told Palestinian President Yasser Arafat Wednesday that he agreed to become the Palestinian Authority's first prime minister.

Earlier Wednesday, Arafat had handed Abu Mazen an official presidential decree naming him to the new office and asking him to form a new cabinet. Abu Mazen informed Arafat he accepted the post in a meeting at the president's office in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Abu Mazen, 66, is the secretary-general of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and a member of the Palestinian Central Council. Both bodies supported him for the new post.

Although Arafat nominated him, some analysts believe the president would have preferred someone else for the new office.

Both the creation of the new post by the Palestinian Liberation Council, the Palestinians' legislature, and Abu Mazen's appointment were seen by analysts as a victory for the United States as well as for younger members of Arafat's Fatah movement, discontent with his leadership.

Arafat tried hard to prevent the PLC from amending the Palestinian basic law to allow the prime minister to send the names of his nominees for ministerial posts directly to the council without first having to clear them with the president. But on Tuesday, Arafat was obliged to withdraw his objections when he found himself isolated in the PLC. He subsequently approved the amended law.

As amended, the basic law gives the prime minister wide administrative and executive authority. Zeyad Abu Amer, chief of the PLC political bureau told United Press International the basic law also allows Abu Mazen to nominate one or two deputies to take over in case of his absence.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a top aide to Arafat who attended the meeting in Ramallah, said both Arafat and Abu Mazen agreed on the general outlines of the PA cabinet that is to be formed after talks with all the Palestinian political groups and as well as the PLC and the PLO Central Council.

American and European leaders welcomed the nomination of Abu Mazen and praised him for his moderation as a Palestinian leader. The U.S. administration said Abu Mazen could contribute to improving chances for resuming the peace process and bringing Israel and the Palestinians to the negotiating table.

However, Hamas, the Islamist militant movement opposed to Israel, declared Wednesday it rejected cooperation with Abu Mazen.

"Creating the new post of a prime minister is the fruit of Zionist-American pressure on the Palestinian people and is a plan to end the Palestinian people's resistance and bury it," said Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a senior Hamas leader.

Rantisi told UPI Hamas would never accept "American dictates."

He called creation of the new office part of the U.S. "roadmap" plan for achieving an Arab-Israeli settlement. It calls, Rantisi said, for an end to the Intifada (Palestinian resistance to Israel), the arrest of what he called freedom fighters and their being disarmed.

"Cooperation means that you are asking us if we could accept being imprisoned and having everything taken from us," Rantisi said. "The answer of course is 'no.'"

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