- The Washington Times - Friday, February 27, 2004

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, furious at accusations of corruption and autocracy within the leadership of the dominant Fatah party he founded, stormed out of a crucial meeting of its 126-person Revolutionary Council yesterday for the second time in two days.

“I will not be part of this meeting because it is setting the Palestinian people ablaze,” a member of the Revolutionary Council quoted Mr. Arafat as yelling at the meeting yesterday.

“He is angry about everything, and against, well, anything,” said the member who did not want to be identified.

The meeting, set to end later yesterday, also saw a clash between Mr. Arafat and his former security strongman Naser Yussef. The pair traded insults late Thursday, with the aging Palestinian leader hurling a microphone at Mr. Yussef, who threw back a pen, Fatah sources told Agence France-Presse on the condition of anonymity.

The sources said the quarrel over some “insignificant subject” — but conceded there was a lot of bad blood between them. Public works minister Azzam al-Ahmad also downplayed the incident: “The row lasted less than a minute and had no importance,” he said.

Mr. Arafat yesterday promised long-overdue elections in Fatah within a year — responding to growing demands for change — but disgruntled younger activists said they doubt the Palestinian leader will keep his word, the Associated Press reported.

Mr. Arafat’s promise came amid demands by reformers to elect new Fatah leaders. The reformers accuse Mr. Arafat of condoning widespread corruption in Fatah and of denying residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip a leading voice in its Central Committee, the main decision-making body.

The committee is dominated by persons Mr. Arafat brought with him when he returned to the Palestinian territories from Tunisia in 1994. Mr. Arafat has kept a tight grip on power and resisted reform.

Participants at the Revolutionary Council meeting said Mr. Arafat agreed to hold a party convention within a year, rejecting demands to hold it within six months. They said the main purpose of the convention would be to elect a new Central Committee.

Some Fatah activists were skeptical that Mr. Arafat would carry out his pledge. They said he has often made such promises in the past and could easily use Israeli-Palestinian tensions as an excuse for delays.

Mr. Arafat listened to the participants, Amin Maqbol, a council member, told the AP. “But the question is if these reforms will be implemented on the ground after the meeting ends.”

A Fatah convention is to be held every five years, but the last one took place in 1989.

In violence yesterday, a Palestinian gunman shot and killed two Israelis traveling in a car in the West Bank, an army spokesman said.

Also, a Palestinian suicide bomber riding a bicycle blew himself up near the Jewish settlement of Kfar Darom in the Gaza Strip. The Islamic Jihad group claimed responsibility.

Earlier, Israeli police fired rubber bullets and hurled stun grenades at a disputed Jerusalem holy site to disperse dozens of Palestinian stone-throwers among crowds of Muslim worshippers. No one was hurt.

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