Tue, Jul 20, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Gaza unrest forces Arafat into reversal

PROTESTS Naming his cousin as chief of security turned out to be a bad move for the Palestinian leader. Under pressure, he asked the former chief back

AP , RAMALLAH, WEST BANK

Backing down in the face of widespread protests, Palestinian President Yasser Arafat asked the ousted Palestinian chief of security to return to his job yesterday, placing him in command of his controversial cousin, Palestinian officials said.

The Palestinian leader phoned Abdel Razek Majaide and asked him to return to the office he left last week at Arafat's request, said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a senior Arafat adviser.

Arafat took the decision to calm the anger that has spilled into the streets of Gaza over the appointment of Moussa Arafat as security chief in the Gaza Strip, Rdeneh said. Opponents claimed the appointment perpetuated a system of corruption and cronyism endemic among the Palestinian leadership.

As head of the Public Security Directorate for all Palestinian territories, Majaide became Moussa Arafat's superior officer in the formal chain of command.

However, it was unclear whether Majaide, who was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general, will have real authority over Moussa Arafat's operations in Gaza.

In Israel-Palestinian violence, Israeli troops shot and killed two Palestinian militants during an arrest operation near the West Bank village of Tulkarem. A suspected Hamas militant was killed in a gunbattle as he walked out of a house with an explosives belt wrapped around his waist, the army said. A militant from the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades was killed in a separate battle. An Israeli army officer also was seriously wounded in the operation, the military said.

On Sunday night, Palestinian gunmen stormed an intelligence office in a Gaza refugee camp and marched through another, protesting Moussa Arafat's appointment.

But in Gaza City yesterday, hundreds of his supporters marched through the streets, some firing assault rifles into the air -- raising the possibility of a violent conflict over the appointment.

"We will protect you by our soul and our blood, our hero Abu Amr," the demonstrators chanted, referring to Yasser Arafat.

The turmoil in Gaza was a grave challenge for Arafat and highlighted sharp rifts between the veteran Palestinian leader and the Cabinet that is supposed to be running the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In the Rafah refugee camp late on Sunday, gunmen exchanged fire with guards at security headquarters and attempted to break into the complex with a bulldozer. The guards wounded three attackers, but there were no casualties among the security forces, staff at the building said.

A Palestinian freelance news reporter on assignment for Reuters news agency was hit by a stray bullet, witnesses said. A Reuters staffer in Jerusalem said Ahmed Babr was shot in the leg during the Rafah firefight and was in stable condition in a local hospital.

Dozens of masked gunmen marched near Moussa Arafat's office in the Nusseirat refugee camp in central Gaza after sundown Sunday, chanting, "No to Moussa Arafat, yes to reform."

Many Palestinians feel Moussa Arafat is a member of the "old guard," steeped in corruption.

It was the most serious internal unrest since the anti-corruption protests last year that forced Arafat to appoint a new government with the first Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas.

Also see story:

Palestinians' patience with Arafat slowly running out

Don't blame Arafat for past peace treaty failures, blame Israel

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