Sun, Jul 18, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Palestinian PM offers to quit as Gaza unravels

AP , RAMALLAH, WEST BANK

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia submitted his resignation yesterday to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, plunging his government into crisis, but Arafat rejected it, a top official said.

The resignation came as Qureia and Arafat discussed a shake-up of security forces amid a rapidly deteriorating crisis in the Gaza Strip. Six people, including the national police chief and four French charity workers, were briefly kidnapped in Gaza a day earlier.

Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erakat said Qureia told members of the legislative council that he submitted his resignation to Arafat, but that the Palestinian leader refused to accept it.

Qureia's resignation followed the announcement that Arafat was replacing his national security chief and his national police chief, in addition to consolidating the Palestinian Authority's disparate security forces into three services -- a key international demand for reform.

Qureia, also known as Abu Ala, was appointed last September, when the first prime minister of the Palestinian government, Mahmoud Abbas, quit after just four months on the job.

Arafat's rejection of Qureia's resignation left his status uncertain, and it was unclear if he would continue to lead the government.

Qureia, one of the main negotiators of the 1993 Oslo peace agreement with Israel that created the Palestinian Authority, proved incapable of asserting his authority over the official security services or over the militant groups which led the attacks against Israel in the Palestinian territories and in Israel itself.

Unlike his predecessor, Qureia never met Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon or other top Israeli officials.

Early yesterday, Arafat's National Security Council declared a state of emergency and sent troops to protect government buildings and officials from militant factions.

There have been several shake-ups of the Palestinian security services since the outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian fighting nearly four years ago.

The Palestinian government called the emergency after Police Chief Ghazi Jabali and another senior security officer were seized by militants Friday and later released.

Four French charity workers were also abducted and held for several hours, as militants made an apparent show of force before the announced withdrawal of Israeli forces and thousands of settlers from the Gaza Strip.

"This is a true disaster," Qureia said yesterday outside his offices. "This is a level of chaos that we have never seen before."

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