Wed, Nov 05, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Qureia's Cabinet-building stymied

PRESSURE MOUNTING The Palestinian prime minister was unable to form a government due to a dispute with Yasser Arafat about the appointment of an interior minister

AP , RAMALLAH, WEST BANK

Activists of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine shoot in the air and demand refugees' right of return during a demonstration against the Geneva Agreement in the West Bank town of Nablus on Monday. The Geneva Agreement foresees Israel dismantling the vast majority of its settlements.

PHOTO: AP

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia on Monday failed to make progress toward forming a government that would enable talks with Israel.

A dispute between Qureia and Yasser Arafat over control of Palestinian security stymied Qureia's Cabinet-building efforts.

The conflict centers on the appointment of an interior minister who would control the armed forces. Each wants his own person in the key slot. Israel and the US insist that Arafat release his grip, with an empowered Palestinian Cabinet taking over security to allow a crackdown on violent Palestinian groups.

The dispute has been going on, in various forms, for months. It was one of the factors that doomed the first prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, who quit on Sept. 6 after only four months in office. Qureia was unable to resolve the differences, and so Arafat appointed him to head an emergency Cabinet for 30 days.

The mandate expired yesterday, putting pressure on Arafat to give in, according to one Palestinian official, though another said Qureia could get a few more days to maneuver. Despite the difficulties, Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said on Monday he believes a new government can be formed within two days.

"It's very realistic," Erekat said, but acknowledged that "there are still some problems concerning the interior minister."

A senior Palestinian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that pressure was mounting on Arafat to accept Qureia's choice for interior minister, Nasser Yousef.

Once he has a government, Qureia said he plans to hold separate talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and leaders of militant groups like Hamas to negotiate an end to three years of violence.

However, in a change of policy, the Israelis are not waiting. Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz confirmed that he met a senior Palestinian official, reportedly Finance Minister Salam Fayad, on Sunday. Mofaz said more high-level meetings would be held once Qureia has formed a government.

Israel TV reported on Monday that at least one other meeting had taken place involving other officials.

Until last week, Sharon had insisted that a Qureia government would have to take steps to dismantle violent groups before talks could resume.

Meanwhile a 16-year-old Palestinian blew himself up near Israeli soldiers searching for him in the West Bank village of Azzoun near Israel on Monday.

The suicide bomber, Sabih Abu Saud from the city of Nablus, killed himself and slightly injured a soldier.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, an armed group with ties to Arafat's ruling Fatah movement, claimed responsibility.

The teen's father, Kamal, said that "he was just a little boy and those who sent him should have left him alone."

He was the youngest of more than 100 suicide bombers over the past three years.

Also Monday, the Palestinian parliament approved hard-liner Rafik Natche, a former Cabinet minister and ambassador to Saudi Arabia, as parliament speaker. The post is important because the speaker would become acting leader of the Palestinian Authority if Arafat steps aside or dies. Qureia left the speaker's post when he was made prime minister.

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