Arafat resists Egyptian pressure to ease him from power

Thursday, June 10, 2004

RAMALLAH Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat has sought to counter an Egyptian diplomatic offensive that seeks to reduce his rule over the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Over the last week, Arafat has been convening senior aides as well as Fatah operatives to maintain his rule amid Egypt's demands that the chairman hand over power to Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei. The proposal has been supported by the so-called Quartet, composed of the European Union, Russia, United Nations and United States.

"Arafat intends to fight this because he realizes that this could be the end of his career," a PA official said. "But he won't fight Egypt head on, rather have others do it."

[On Wednesday, Arafat relayed a protest to Jordan's King Abdullah in connection with a joint Israeli-Jordanian tour of the northern West Bank last week. Jordan has offered to train PA security officers in the West Bank.]

Egypt, which has obtained Israeli permission to deploy an additional 150 troops along the Egyptian-Gaza border, has also demanded that Arafat fire at least 40 leading security commanders. Egypt also plans to send at least 90 trainers to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

PA officials said Arafat has warned his commanders and aides not to cooperate with Egypt. They said Arafat has threatened those who have appeared to support Egyptian demands for security reform and a reduction in the role of the PA chairman.

In late May, Arafat expelled National Security Adviser Brig. Gen. Jibril Rajoub from a meeting after the chairman accused Rajoub of working against him. Arafat, shouting to Rajoub, "Animal, get out," accused his adviser of bad-mouthing him during a recent visit to Cairo.

Arafat was also said to be considering replacing his longtime adviser and spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh. Officials said Abu Rudeineh has come under intense criticism from Arafat and his aides for failing to defend the chairman in the Arab media.

Egypt has also discussed its security reform plan in the PA with Palestinian insurgency groups based in Syria. The regime of President Hosni Mubarak has sought a guarantee from the insurgency groups that Egyptian forces along the Egyptian-Gaza border would not be attacked.

Publicly, Arafat has embraced the Egyptian plan and sent a letter to this effect to Mubarak on June 7. Officials said the PA chairman promised Egypt to announce the appointment of a PA security chief on June 15.

But officials said Arafat has quietly urged the Islamic opposition movement, Hamas, to oppose the Israeli withdrawal plan as well as the Egyptian demands for the restructuring of the PA security forces. In the Gaza Strip, Arafat has also organized demonstrations against Egypt.

At the same time, the PA chairman appears concerned that a leading PA security commander, Maj. Gen. Abdul Razik Al Majaydeh, has been targeting PA officers in the Gaza Strip for dismissal in accordance with the Egyptian plan. Last week, more than 130 officers from the PA National Forces, who staged a mutiny in Dir Al Balah, demanded the resignation of Al Majaydeh, accusing him of corruption and failing to fight Israel's military in the Gaza Strip.

Al Majaydeh quickly reacted and on June 4, his National Forces distributed a communique that accused military intelligence chief Mussa Arafat, the nephew of the PA chairman, of seeking to torpedo the Egyptian campaign. The communique said Mussa Arafat encouraged the 130 officers to mutiny by offering them promotions and money.

Officials said Egypt has identified 40 PA security officers for dismissal. They said the officers comprise the top four levels of the PA security hierarchy.

On June 7, two Palestinian security officers were injured in a shootout between PA security units in the northern Gaza Strip. Palestinian sources said the clash was between the National Security Forces and Military Intelligence troops.

So far, the commander of PA police in the West Bank, Brig. Gen. Haj Ismail, has resigned. Officials said Ismail was angered by Arafat's treatment, but Arafat aides said the police commander was accused of stealing $2.5 million in funds meant for his troops.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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