Palestinian leaders decided in the absence of President Yasser Arafat yesterday to carry out a plan to restore law and order in the West Bank and Gaza, a government minister said.
It was the first major decision announced by the Palestinian leadership since Arafat was flown to hospital in Paris on Oct. 29.
Officials said the plan was drafted in March and is more concerned with ending local lawlessness than reining in militants waging a four-year-old uprising -- a long-standing Israeli and international demand.
Although the plan was approved months ago by various armed factions, no action had been taken.
Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said it would now take effect immediately.
It calls for more security forces to be deployed and better coordination among them. It demands that militants stop carrying arms unless confronting Israeli forces and says the police, rather than gunmen, should deal with disturbances.
Arafat and other officials often promised action on the security front, but little ever happened. Arafat complained that the Palestinians were hamstrung by Israel's destruction of their forces during the uprising.
While briefing Israel's Cabinet, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said there were signs that Palestinian leaders were trying to curtail violence.
"There are indications that they are trying to close ranks and stop the Hamas terrorism, but there is no way of knowing if this will succeed," he said.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie came under pressure from the armed factions on Saturday to give them decision-making powers in a temporary unified leadership they want if Arafat dies. He did not say he had agreed.
Yasser Arafat lay critically ill with liver failure yesterday and his condition was not improving, a Palestinian official said.
Israel, meanwhile, said it had finalized plans to bury the Palestinian president in the Gaza Strip.
Arafat wants to be buried in Jerusalem, which is holy both to Muslims and Jews, but Israeli officials refuse to bury him in land they say is part of Israel's indivisible capital.
Aides gave conflicting reports about the 75-year-old leader's health and concern grew about who will succeed him and the fate of Middle East peace efforts that have stalled.
Some aides said he was not in a coma. Others said his condition was so bad that he might be moved to Cairo, from where he could be flown home more quickly if he died.
"He has liver failure. His condition is not improving," said a Palestinian official in the West Bank who declined to be named. "One option being considered is moving him to Cairo."
The official said any decision to move Arafat could be taken only by the Palestinian leadership. He added that a low count of platelets, which help the blood clot, meant blood transfusions were proving difficult.
Doctors have ruled out leukemia but remain puzzled why Arafat's health deteriorated sharply last week at the military hospital in a southwest Paris suburb where he has been having tests since he was airlifted there from the West Bank.
A row is brewing over where to bury the man who personifies the struggle to establish a Palestinian state, a dream that Arafat has not fulfilled amidst a 4-year-old Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
"The defense establishment has completed preparations for an Arafat funeral in Gaza," political sources quoted Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz as telling a Cabinet meeting.