Wed, Jul 28, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Qurie agrees to keep job

RESIGNATION RETRACTED The Palestinian prime minister has been given control of police and security forces, but many question how much power he'll have

REUTERS , RAMALLAH, WEST BANK

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, right, and Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, left, are photographed during a Cabinet meeting at Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah yesterday.

PHOTO: EPA

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie withdrew his resignation yesterday after Palestinian Presi-dent Yasser Arafat granted him some powers to carry out reforms, easing a paralyzing leadership crisis, officials said.

Qurie's chief of staff said he had won effective control over police and internal security agencies, part of a security apparatus whose chaos and corruption is seen by international mediators as an obstacle to peacemaking with Israel.

Arafat's move, initially disclosed by a pro-reform committee of legis-lators after a meeting with the president, came after an unprecedented explosion of unrest over high-level inaction on demands for anti-corruption reforms.

But Arafat has not honored similar promises in the past. Yesterday's deal leaves him in charge of national security and intelligence which encompass the bulk of Palestinian security personnel.

"The president rejected my resignation and I will [now] comply," Qurie told reporters after 10 days of turmoil that raised fears of a descent into anarchy in the West Bank and Gaza.

"I hope I will be up to this confidence and cooperate with [Arafat] in carrying out this very difficult responsibility," Qurie said after a Cabinet session from which he and the president emerged smiling, each kissing the other on the cheek.

Arafat would address the Palestinian people soon to provide details of the deal, Qurie added.

"The Cabinet has been given powers to exercise its duties. We are speaking now of decrees and decisions that will be announced very soon," said Hassan Abu Lib-deh, Qurie's chief of staff. "This is a good step. In the next few days and weeks we will see action permitting the government to play its role."

Qurie had wanted to bow out in despair over his inability to pursue reforms, especially to security organs under Arafat's thumb.

"[Arafat] has agreed to speed up the reform drive to end the state of lawlessness in the Palestinian territories," lawmaker Hanan Ashrawi, who has blasted the president's "one-man" rule, said after the committee met with him on Monday evening.

US-led mediators regard Palestinian reforms, along with Israeli restraint in military action against Palestinian militants, as crucial to reviving a peace plan promising Palestinians a state in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza.

A power struggle has been brewing in Gaza in anticipation of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw settlers and troops from the territory by the end of next year. Arafat's leadership was challenged this month when gunmen linked to his Fatah faction sparked chaos in Gaza by kidnapping a number of Palestinian officials and foreigners to back demands that he overhaul security forces and other institutions.

Qurie wants Arafat to relinquish control, both direct and indirect, over a grab bag of a dozen feuding security services. But Arafat has seemed amenable only to cosmetic changes.

Ashrawi said Arafat would demand the Palestinian attorney general begin legal procedures against any officials involved in corruption. Another legislator said Arafat would give his interior minister powers to fight corruption.

Meanwhile, two Palestinians, at least one of them a Hamas militant, were killed in a clash with Israeli troops on the edge of Gaza City yesterday. The army said its forces fired at militants preparing to launch a mortar or rocket at a nearby Jewish settlement.

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