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Tuesday, July 20, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Arafat backpedals to quell unrest

The Associated Press

Palestinian police officers raise their weapons in support Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and his cousin Moussa Arafat in a Gaza protest yesterday.
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RAMALLAH, West Bank — Turmoil ignited by a young generation of Palestinians forced Yasser Arafat to backtrack yesterday on an attempt to put his loyalists in office.

The power struggles enveloping the Palestinian Authority will likely determine who will dominate the Gaza Strip once Israel completes its planned withdrawal from the Palestinian territory.

Under siege from demonstrators and his own government, Arafat yesterday returned his ousted security chief, Abdel Razak Majaide, to power in an apparent attempt to quell violent protests in Gaza.

Majaide had been fired only three days earlier. His reinstatement puts him in charge of security for all Palestinian territories, above Moussa Arafat, the cousin and longtime lieutenant of the Palestinian leader.

Arafat named his cousin Gaza's security chief over the weekend, prompting angry demonstrators to burn Palestinian Authority offices in the Gaza Strip. Many Palestinians see Moussa Arafat as representing the cronyism and corruption of the old leadership.

Intensifying the pressure on Arafat, Ahmed Qureia yesterday made a rare appeal to the Palestinian leader to reform the security forces, and said he stands by his decision last week to resign as prime minister. Arafat has not accepted Qureia's resignation, leaving the premier's status in limbo.

The appointment of Arafat's cousin deepened the discord between Arafat's generation, which led the Palestinian struggle from exile for decades, and young Palestinians who have lived under Israeli occupation and now accuse the old guard of corruption and monopolizing power.

But dissent went beyond the divide among generations and spread to the security forces, where several top officials resigned in protest over Moussa Arafat's appointment.

Qureia called on both the people of Gaza and the Palestinian leadership to end the violence.

"Enough, enough, enough," he said, adding that only Israel will benefit from the internal conflict. He announced that a delegation of 11 Cabinet ministers will go to Gaza to mediate between the security, political and militant leaders.

Hani Masri, a Palestinian writer and political analyst, said the conflict in Gaza "is not about reform. It's a fight for power" in the void that would be created when the Israelis pull out.
The struggle for supremacy will be between Arafat's loyalists and the supporters of Mohammed Dahlan, a former security chief who has been touring Gaza and calling for reform.

"When Arafat appointed his cousin, he was sending a message that he was ready for war. But today, he backtracked," Masri said, calling it a defeat for the Palestinian leader.

In related developments:

Jewish settlements slated for evacuation have grown rapidly since Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced six months ago that he planned to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements, according to Interior Ministry documents.

The number of Gaza Strip settlers has grown 4.3 percent since Sharon announced his plan in December. One of the four West Bank settlements, Sa-Nur, doubled its population in that same period.

By comparison, in the six months before Sharon announced his so-called "disengagement plan," Gaza Strip settlements grew 1.5 percent. In Sa-Nur, growth was 36 percent.

Jewish settler leaders acknowledge they are trying to enlist new residents who will resist Sharon's announced pullout. The numbers represent a big challenge for the prime minister, who is staking much of his political career on reducing, not raising, the number of settlers in those areas.

French President Jacques Chirac said yesterday that Sharon would not be welcome in France until he gave a satisfactory explanation for saying Jews should go to Israel to escape anti-Semitism in France.

Sharon was considering a trip to Paris, but no date had been set.

Sharon's remarks were misunderstood, said the charge d'affaires of the Israeli Embassy in Paris.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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