- The Washington Times - Monday, October 13, 2003

RAMALLAH, West Bank — After days of bitter quarreling with Yasser Arafat, interim Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said yesterday that he intends to give up his post in the coming weeks, dampening hopes of reviving a stalled U.S.-backed peace plan.

Still, Mr. Qureia’s threat left open the possibility that a deal could be worked out to keep him in office.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army said it withdrew some troops from the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, where it fought Palestinians for two days while searching for weapons-smuggling tunnels. Eight Palestinians were killed, and local residents reported that the army destroyed 100 homes.

Mr. Qureia leads an emergency Cabinet that Mr. Arafat, president of the Palestinian Authority, appointed by decree a week ago with a one-month mandate.

Mr. Qureia said yesterday after a meeting of the central committee of Mr. Arafat’s ruling Fatah party that a new government will be formed in about three weeks “with a new prime minister, too.”

If Mr. Qureia quits, he would be the second prime minister in five weeks to resign over disputes with Mr. Arafat, casting doubt on whether the latter will ever relinquish enough power to allow a prime minister to succeed.

The first man Mr. Arafat appointed, Mahmoud Abbas, lasted four months in office, resigning Sept. 6 after being caught between Israeli demands for a crackdown on militants and Mr. Arafat’s refusal to give up control over security forces.

Mr. Qureia has been arguing with Mr. Arafat for days about who would be security chief in the new Cabinet and whether Mr. Arafat even had the authority to name an emergency Cabinet without legislative approval.

Under an agreement worked out yesterday by top Fatah officials, Mr. Qureia and the six emergency Cabinet ministers sworn in last week would remain in place for three weeks more without a security chief, Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath said.

Then, Mr. Qureia and the Cabinet would resign and a new government would be presented to the legislature for approval, a senior Palestinian official said.

The argument between Mr. Arafat and Mr. Qureia centered on Mr. Arafat’s appointment of Nasser Yousef as interior minister, making him head of the security forces.

Mr. Arafat withdrew support for his longtime ally after Mr. Yousef refused to participate in the Cabinet inauguration Tuesday, Palestinian sources said. Mr. Yousef said he wanted to wait until the government had parliamentary backing.

Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers continued a three-day operation in the Rafah camp on the Gaza-Egypt border. They are searching for tunnels used to smuggle weapons and drugs into Gaza underneath the border with Egypt, the military said, adding that three tunnels were destroyed.

Military officials said Palestinians planned to use the tunnels to bring in more advanced weapons, such as antiaircraft missiles, that could have a strategic effect on the three-year conflict.

Local Palestinian officials said the army destroyed a significant part of the Yabena neighborhood, including water and sewage treatment facilities.

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