- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 9, 2004

TEL AVIV — Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia threatened to resign yesterday for the second time in three months, saying he lacked the authority to carry out reforms, Arab press reports said.

Palestinian officials called the reports exaggerated, but they were enough to stir speculation that the rift between Mr. Qureia and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat had not been mended.

In July, Mr. Qureia backed down from a threat to resign in a dispute triggered by charges of corruption leveled at Arafat loyalists and by growing anarchy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

On Tuesday night, Mr. Qureia reportedly became embroiled in a dispute with Mr. Arafat over governmental reform.

The two also clashed over appointing a committee to hold talks with the group of countries that donates money to the Palestinians, said the London Arabic daily newspaper, Asharq al Awsat.

“We are making a big fuss over nothing,” Razi Hananiyeh, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, said yesterday. “It’s normal to have different points of view between ministers. It happens all over the world. Everything is fine.”

If Mr. Qureia resigns, it likely would stoke global pressure on Mr. Arafat to make concessions on international demands that he crack down on corruption and reform security services that have been implicated in attacks on Israelis.

Aides to the two leaders were not available for comment yesterday.

The reports stirred uncertainty on the streets of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip about the future of the Palestinian Cabinet, which would be forced to resign if the prime minister quits.

“Abu Ala is going to resign anyway. He feels like he is wasting his time,” said West Bank analyst Bashir Barghouti, using a popular nickname for Mr. Qureia. “He knows that Arafat doesn’t want any reform. He sees there is no chance for the peace process for the time being.”

The reports of a Palestinian leadership crisis came as Israel sent infantry and armored units into the northern Gaza Strip towns of Jabaliya and Beit Hanoun in an attempt to prevent Palestinian militants from firing rockets into Israel.

The incursion failed to stop the launches, and two missiles landed in the southern Israeli town of Sderot.

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