- The Washington Times - Monday, October 6, 2003

ABU DIS, West Bank — Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said yesterday he hopes to negotiate a quick truce with Israel but will not use force against Palestinian militants under any circumstances, despite U.S. demands for a clampdown on armed groups.

In setting policy, “I will not listen to the Americans. I will listen to our national rights,” Mr. Qureia said just hours after being installed as the head of an eight-member emergency Cabinet by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Mr. Qureia offered no formula for getting around the deadlock in implementing the U.S.-backed “road map” peace plan, which requires Palestinian security forces to disarm and dismantle militant groups that have killed hundreds of Israelis in shootings and suicide bombings in the past three years of fighting.

While accepting the plan in principle, Palestinian leaders have said they cannot confront the armed groups for fear of sparking internal fighting. Mr. Qureia stuck to this position, saying he has not yet put together an action plan for his security forces but would in any case not use force against the militants.

“We will not confront, we will not go for a civil war,” he said. “It’s not in our interest. It’s not in the interest of our people, and it’s not in the interest of the peace process.”

Palestinian security forces will try to impose law and order, Mr. Qureia said, but he was evasive about how he would comply with the road map without dismantling the armed groups. He said he was “not a slave to words” but would adhere to the concepts of the peace plan.

In Washington, President Bush said the Palestinian Authority must do more to fight terror and “must use whatever means” necessary.

“All parties must assume responsibility. The Palestinian Authority must defeat the terrorists who are trying to stop the establishment of a Palestinian state, a peaceful state, in order for there to be peace,” Mr. Bush told reporters.

Mr. Bush, who called Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon over the weekend to express condolences after an Islamic Jihad suicide bomber killed 19 persons in a restaurant in the port city of Haifa, also said Israel “should avoid escalation, creating higher tensions.”

Mr. Qureia was nominated by Mr. Arafat a month ago to replace Mahmoud Abbas, who resigned in frustration after struggling with Mr. Arafat for authority, particularly control over the security services, and over Israel’s inaction on the road map.

Mr. Qureia was appointed by decree from Mr. Arafat on Sunday night, after weeks of political maneuvering over Cabinet appointments.

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