Skip to comments.Arafat Appoints New Acting Security Chief
Posted on 10/13/2003 5:03:47 PM PDT by Kudsman
Arafat Appoints New Acting Security Chief
By RAVI NESSMAN JERUSALEM - Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat delivered yet another blow to his new premier Monday, appointing an acting security chief over interim Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia's opposition.
Qureia, in office about a week, already has threatened to resign several times because of disputes with Arafat. The latest threat came Sunday, when Qureia said he will not be part of the new government set to form in about three weeks.
Qureia's success or failure in office could decide the fate of stalled negotiations with Israel over a U.S.-backed peace plan intended to end three years of violence and create a Palestinian state by 2005.
Meanwhile, U.N. officials reported that more than 1,200 Palestinians were left homeless after a three-day Israeli military operation in the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza. Israel was searching for weapons-smuggling tunnels there.
Also Monday, former Israeli peace negotiators and Palestinian officials said they agreed on an unofficial peace deal that could eventually be the basis of official negotiations.
The unofficial deal would give Palestinians a state in 98 percent of the West Bank and all of Gaza. They also would receive land in Israel's Negev Desert to compensate for the 2 percent kept in the West Bank by Israel.
Jerusalem would be divided and most Palestinian refugees would be kept out of Israel, negotiators said.
Israeli leaders blasted the agreement as an end run that damaged the government's peace efforts.
The Palestinian government has been in disarray for several days because of an increasingly bitter dispute between Arafat and Qureia over the legitimacy of an emergency Cabinet and who would be the new interior minister _ their top security official.
Arafat appointed longtime ally Nasser Yousef interior minister when he named an emergency government Oct. 5. But Yousef defied Arafat by refusing to participate in last week's inauguration ceremony, and Arafat withdrew his support.
Qureia continued supporting Yousef, saying dropping him now would embarrass the new government.
Regardless, Arafat on Monday appointed Hakam Balawi, a senior official from his ruling Fatah party, as acting security chief, a Palestinian official said on condition of anonymity.
Palestinian officials said the dispute over Balawi's appointment would be raised Tuesday during a meeting of the National Security Council, which Arafat heads.
Qureia already lost his battle to get the Cabinet, which Arafat formed by decree, approved by Palestinian legislators. However, his threat to quit when his temporary government expires in about three weeks left him time to settle his differences with Arafat, Palestinian officials said.
If Qureia quits, he would be the second prime minister in five weeks to resign over disputes with Arafat, casting doubt on whether Arafat will ever relinquish enough power to allow a premier to succeed.
Israel and the United States insist Arafat hand over authority, charging that he is tainted by ties to terror.
The United States hoped the prime minister would implement the "road map" peace plan. But all efforts to restart negotiations remain on hold until a stable Palestinian government is formed.
While Palestinian officials in Ramallah were arguing in recent days, 1,240 Palestinians in the Rafah refugee camp on the Gaza-Egypt border became homeless during the military raid, U.N. officials said Monday.
Eight Palestinians, including two children, were killed and dozens were wounded during intense fighting.
The U.N. Relief and Works Agency said 120 houses were demolished and another 117 buildings were damaged during the Israeli operation. Municipal officials said water and sewage treatment systems in the camp's Yabena neighborhood were destroyed as well.
The agency will give $500 to each displaced family. More than 7,500 Palestinians in Rafah, and nearly 12,000 in all of Gaza, have been left homeless since the Israeli-Palestinian violence began three years ago, the agency said.
Israel estimated that only 30 houses were destroyed during the three-day raid, which ended Sunday morning. Some of those houses had smuggling tunnels beneath them, while others were used by Palestinian gunmen or were boobytrapped, said army spokesman Capt. Jacob Dallal.
Some of the houses also may have been damaged by Palestinian gunmen using anti-tank guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
"All these places were the points from which hostilities were launched," he said. "If they were taken over by gunmen, then it's regrettable. But it's the gunmen's fault."
Military officials said they discovered three tunnels Palestinians planned to use to bring in more advanced weapons, like anti-aircraft missiles, that could have a strategic impact on the conflict, the officials said.
Some of the newly homeless disputed the military's account.
Soliman Awaja, a 49-year-old taxi driver, said he was sleeping in a two-story house occupied by 18 family members when soldiers with dogs stormed the house and demanded everyone leave.
"I called on my neighbors to help me save my family and evacuate the house, but the soldiers fired at them," he said.
A bulldozer then demolished the house, forcing the family to seek refuge in a U.N. tent camp.
The raid was part of increased military activity following an Oct. 3 suicide bombing that killed 20 Israelis in a restaurant in the port city of Haifa.