- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 11, 2003

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat fought with his prime minister yesterday over who should be the new Palestinian security chief, in a deepening dispute that threatens to bring down the government appointed less than a week ago.

In an argument with Mr. Arafat two days ago, Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia hinted he might step down, a possibility that appeared more likely as their fight continued into the night yesterday. As it stands now, Mr. Qureia’s Cabinet, which Mr. Arafat appointed by decree Oct. 5, will serve for one month as planned.

“We have a crisis, but we are still trying to work it out,” Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat said.

Meanwhile, battles continued for the second day in the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza where Israeli troops were searching for tunnels being used to smuggle weapons. One Palestinian was killed yesterday.

The Palestinians’ political disagreement centered around the appointment of Nasser Yousef as interior minister, a position that would have at least nominal control of some of the Palestinian security forces.

Mr. Arafat, who named Mr. Yousef interior minister in an eight-member emergency Cabinet less than a week ago, withdrew his support for his old ally after Mr. Yousef refused to participate in the swearing-in of the emergency Cabinet on Tuesday, Palestinian sources said yesterday.

Mr. Yousef said he wanted to wait until the government had parliamentary backing. The political troubles boiled over Thursday with the cancellation of the Palestinian legislature’s vote on the emergency Cabinet.

In yesterday’s meetings, Mr. Arafat wanted to replace Mr. Yousef with Hakam Balawi, a senior Fatah official, but Mr. Qureia objected to dumping Mr. Yousef just a week after he was named, a Fatah official said.

Violence continued yesterday in the refugee camp of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, where Israel’s military was battling masked gunmen for a second straight day as it searched for tunnels used to smuggle weapons and drugs into Gaza underneath the border with Egypt.

Helicopters flew overhead and bursts of machine-gun fire and loud booms echoed through the camp’s narrow alleys.

A 19-year-old Palestinian was shot and killed yesterday, bringing to eight the number of Palestinians killed since Israeli forces moved into the camp around midnight Thursday. Among the dead were two children. More than 70 people have been wounded, including 11 yesterday.

The Israeli army said troops uncovered and blew up three tunnels used to smuggle weapons during the operation. Residents said the Israeli army bulldozed 13 houses.

The raid was part of military activity in response to last weekend’s suicide bombing that killed 19 in a restaurant in the port city of Haifa. Military officials, citing intelligence, said Palestinians might be planning to use the tunnels to bring in more advanced weapons, like anti-aircraft missiles.

Meanwhile, members of Israel’s opposition parties and Palestinian officials met yesterday for informal talks at an isolated resort on the Jordanian shore of the Dead Sea. The talks, which did not have the backing of the Israeli government, touched on ways to revive peace negotiations and end violence by Palestinian militants.

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