Saturday, August 7, 2004

RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Palestinian justice minister announced his resignation yesterday to protest Yasser Arafat’s refusal to share power, adding to growing turmoil in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Planning Minister Nabil Qassis also resigned but apparently not as an act of protest. Mr. Qassis said he was leaving the Cabinet to serve as president of Bir Zeit University, the largest in the West Bank.

Justice Minister Nahed Arreyes said he has been stripped of much of his authority over the legal system. Last year, Mr. Arafat created a rival agency to the Justice Ministry and continues to control the judiciary.

Mr. Arreyes said he submitted his resignation to Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia on Wednesday. However, Mr. Qureia said he has not accepted the resignation and would press the minister to stay.

“We stand by him, and we hope we can resolve the issue,” Mr. Qureia told reporters in Ramallah.

The resignation underscored the growing crisis in the Palestinian Authority. Mr. Arafat has been trying to beat back demands for internal reform.

In an interview in his Gaza City home, Mr. Arreyes said he no longer had authority over state prosecutors. “The prosecution should be under the control of the Justice Ministry, according to the law,” he said, declining to elaborate. “My resignation comes as a protest against the incorrect position of the prosecution.”

Israel’s Police Minister Tzahi Hanegbi, meanwhile, reiterated warnings that Jewish extremists may try to attack a Jerusalem shrine sacred to Muslims and Jews in hopes of stopping Israel’s planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

Jews revere the mosque compound as the Temple Mount, site of their biblical temples, but Muslims revere it as Haram as-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, the spot where tradition says the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.

The compound includes the Al Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques. The Western Wall, a remnant of the second temple’s retaining wall, extends along one side of the site and is Judaism’s holiest shrine. Some Jewish extremists have called repeatedly for the destruction of the mosques to make way for the rebuilding of the temple.

Muslim authorities administer the site, but Israeli police are in charge of overall security.

About 30,000 Israeli Arabs attended an annual children’s festival yesterday evening at the Al Aqsa compound, organized by Israel’s Islamic Movement, one of the largest political groups among Israeli Arabs.

Organizers read a speech from the movement’s jailed leader, Raed Salah, in which he said Israel is not doing enough to prevent extremists from attacking the site.

“Clearly, you have detailed information that some Jewish extremists are planning to blow up the Al Aqsa mosque from the air, but we have not seen any acts by you to stop these Jewish extremists,” he said.

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