Arafat appoints loyalist as new prime minister

Special to World
Monday, September 8, 2003

RAMALLAH Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat has won approval for a longtime loyalist to be appointed prime minister.

The Fatah Central Council approved the appointment of Palestinian Legislative Council speaker Ahmed Qurei as prime minister. Under the proposed move, Qurei would replace Mahmoud Abbas, who resigned as prime minister on Saturday.

Qurei, 66, has not said he would accept the post. The PLC speaker, who is in poor health, was said to have dismissed earlier appeals to become prime minister.

But a Palestinian official said Arafat plans to name Qurei as the new prime minister as early as Monday. The official said Qurei does not plan to turn down the PA chairman, who also intends to appoint a deputy prime minister and interior minister.

Abbas quit on Saturday in wake of a violent demonstration by Arafat supporters as the prime minister addressed the PLC. The prime minister cited a series of reasons for his resignation, including what he termed a "dangerous incitement" campaign against his government and its policies.

Qurei, sent by Arafat to help negotiate the Israeli-PLO deal in 1993, has long served Arafat as the financial chief of the PLO. Qurei was the chairman of the Palestinian National Fund, which operated businesses and PLO fronts in Africa and Europe.

Palestinian sources said Qurei has been informally designated by Arafat as the heir of the PA chairman. Qurei, expected to renew efforts for another ceasefire declaration by Palestinian insurgency groups, also has extensive ties with Israel.

Overnight Monday, Israel's military continued its offensive against Hamas strongholds in the Gaza Strip. Israeli attack helicopters fired missiles toward a suspected Hamas armory near Khan Yunis. Palestinian sources said 10 people were injured in the attack. They said the armory was empty.

Hours later, Palestinian gunners fired six mortars on Israeli communities in the central Gaza Strip. Nobody was injured.

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