- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 8, 2003

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat came out the winner yesterday after weeks of bitter political infighting with his prime minister, keeping his grip on security forces and putting a handpicked confidant in the post of interior minister.

The agreement clears the way for the formation of a government in the coming days and the resumption of high-level talks with Israel, but it frustrates U.S. efforts to sideline Mr. Arafat.

Also yesterday, Israeli troops shot and killed two Palestinians in violent street clashes and blew up a large explosives lab hidden among buildings in a cramped West Bank refugee camp. In Gaza, soldiers killed two Palestinians in an off-limits zone near the fence with Israel.

Mr. Arafat and Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia met yesterday with top officials from the ruling Fatah movement to complete an agreement over control of eight security branches and the makeup of a new Cabinet. With the arrangement, an intense power struggle and weeks of political limbo appeared close to an end.

“I hope we will finish forming [the Cabinet] in the next couple of days,” Mr. Arafat said. “We will announce it as soon as possible.”

Mr. Arafat maintained his hold on security forces by placing them under the command of a 12-member national security council that he chairs. Mr. Qureia had demanded that those forces be put under the control of an interior minister.

The deal is sure to upset U.S. officials, who, along with Israel, have sought to isolate Mr. Arafat and whittle away at his authority. The previous prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, walked off the job after just four months, also after failing to wrest security forces from Mr. Arafat’s control.

Israel and the United States believe Mr. Arafat has links to terror attacks and is a hindrance to progress toward peace.

U.S. officials had hoped a prime minister in control of security personnel might use them to crack down on Islamic and other militant groups that have killed hundreds of Israelis.

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