- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 1, 2004

TEL AVIV — Former Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan issued a rare public challenge to Yasser Arafat, calling on the Palestinian leader to overhaul security forces in the Gaza Strip within 10 days or face a new escalation of unrest in the coastal region.

The call came as infighting simmered in the West Bank city of Nablus, where masked gunmen fired weapons at a meeting of reformists in Mr. Arafat’s dominant Fatah group.

Although Mr. Arafat ended a 1-week political standoff with Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia last week, the threat of internecine conflict has not abated.

Mr. Dahlan, the former Gaza Strip security chief, has become an outspoken critic of Mr. Arafat and is widely believed by Palestinians to have helped foment more than two weeks of anti-government upheaval that erupted there last month.

In an interview with the Kuwaiti daily Al-Watan, Mr. Dahlan leveled his harshest criticism of Mr. Arafat’s government to date. He charged that $5 billion in international donations earmarked for the Palestinian people had disappeared under Mr. Arafat’s watch.

Mr. Dahlan pledged to bring 30,000 Gazans into the streets to demonstrate against the Palestinian Authority unless Mr. Arafat carried out a series of government reforms.

“Arafat is sitting on the corpses and destruction of the Palestinians at a time when they’re desperately in need of a new mentality,” Mr. Dahlan said in the interview, according to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz.

Israel’s plans to withdraw its troops and evacuate about 8,000 settlers from the Gaza Strip have stirred anticipation of a power vacuum, sharpening rivalries among Palestinian militias there.

Over the weekend, the fighting among armed groups spread to the West Bank for the first time, raising concern about a growing wave of Palestinian chaos.

A gathering in the West Bank city of Nablus yesterday on government reform was called off after about 20 masked gunmen barged into the meeting and fired their weapons into the air.

According to some of the 70 Palestinian legislators and Fatah activists, the gunmen said that the meeting was part of a conspiracy against Mr. Arafat, the Associated Press reported.

Elsewhere in the West Bank, gunmen in Jenin loyal to Zakaria Zubeidi, a local strongman from the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, marched through the center of the city.

Over the weekend, Mr. Zubeidi and his followers set fire to a building belonging to the Jenin governor and called on the Palestinian Authority to give them more money.

Gunmen angry at the Palestinian Authority briefly abducted foreigners in Nablus.

A younger generation of Fatah activists is behind much of the discontent buffeting Mr. Arafat’s administration.

“There are people who aren’t qualified for the jobs that are being given. They’re replacing one corrupt person with someone else who is even more corrupt,” said Yousef Mousa, a Palestinian activist. “We are saying that the way Arafat is managing things isn’t correct. It won’t lead our people to achieve its goals.”

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