- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 10, 2003

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian Parliament Speaker Ahmed Qureia yesterday accepted the post of prime minister and said he would present a small crisis Cabinet to Parliament for approval by today.

Mr. Qureia was nominated by Yasser Arafat on Sunday to replace Mahmoud Abbas, who resigned over the weekend amid a power struggle with the veteran Palestinian leader.

The announcement by Mr. Qureia came after days of indecision and appeared to have been spurred by a new spike in violence — two suicide bombings and an Israeli air strike in 17 hours.

Mr. Qureia said his government’s top priority will be strengthening and unifying the eight branches of the Palestinian security services.

“All the forces will be in one framework,” Mr. Qureia said.

He will appoint an interior minister, a minister for security affairs and a deputy prime minister for security affairs to oversee the forces, he said.

Control over security forces would be essential for the Palestinians to confront militant groups, as required by a U.S.-backed “road map” peace plan. The Palestinians have been reluctant to do so for fear of sparking a civil war.

Mr. Qureia, widely known as Abu Ala, initially demanded guarantees that Israel will change its policies, including halting military strikes and targeted killings of militants. Israel has refused to do so.

Mr. Abbas resigned Saturday after four months in his post, dealing a setback to the peace plan, which seeks to establish a Palestinian state by 2005. Israel and the United States have refused to deal with Mr. Arafat, whom they accuse of fomenting terrorism.

Israeli officials have said they are concerned over Mr. Qureia’s close relations with Mr. Arafat, who they say impeded Mr. Abbas’ efforts to bring a halt to violence and implement the peace plan.

Israeli government spokesman Zalman Shoval said Israel’s attitude toward Mr. Qureia would be determined by his actions.

“Our attitude to Qureia will not be in accordance with what he says, but rather if in fact he implements what the road map, the U.S. and we expect from him,” Mr. Shoval said.

Mr. Qureia said he would act quickly to form a crisis Cabinet of no more than eight ministers, and would try to present his team to Parliament for approval today.

“What’s happened is very dangerous,” Mr. Qureia said after meeting with Mr. Arafat.

“What’s happened from the Israelis is not acceptable; it is dangerous. What’s happened … [to] the Palestinians, it’s unacceptable. It is dangerous.”

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