Arafat cuts payments to insurgents on security payroll

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

RAMALLAH Insurgents loyal to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat have threatened to break away from the ruling Fatah movement unless they receive their salaries.

Fatah insurgents said that they have not been paid for up to two months. They said the result has been a drop in insurgency operations against Israel.

Insurgents said numerous appeals have been relayed to Arafat and his aides, but they have not sent salaries for April and May. Arafat has pleaded poverty and urged Fatah insurgents to turn to PA Finance Minister Salam Fayyad instead.

"The Palestinian leadership now sees Al Aqsa as an obstacle to any political breakthrough," Palestinian Legislative Council member Hatem Abdul Kader said. "Many Fatah leaders are in fact trying to get rid of the group."

Most Fatah insurgents, including those in the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, had been on the payroll of the PA security agencies. But over the last few months, Fayyad has managed to end payment to hundreds of fictitious employees of the security services.

Arafat has urged Fatah insurgents to rejoin the PA security forces, but the gunmen termed the PA chairman's offer a ploy to end the Al Aqsa Brigades. Under the Egyptian reform plan, Arafat would no longer have direct control over the security agencies.

Egyptian intelligence chief Gen. Omar Suleiman was expected to arrive in Ramallah next week to meet Arafat. PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei said the Fatah Central Council would establish a panel to consider the future of Al Aqsa Brigades.

Al Aqsa, created in late 2000, was believed to have more than 400 members in the West Bank and about 5,000 in the Gaza Strip. Over the last year, about 100 Fatah insurgents aligned with Al Aqsa in Jenin and Nablus have been on the payroll of Iran and Hizbullah.

"If merging the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades with the Palestinian Authority aims at silencing the voice of Palestinian truth and honor, then the blood of our martyrs calls upon us and our responsibility," Al Aqsa said in a leaflet.

Several Al Aqsa leaders have raised the prospect of breaking off from Fatah. They did not suggest an alternative financial source, but several Fatah insurgents said one option was to acquire Hizbullah sponsorship. Hizbullah has financed Al Aqsa in the northern West Bank.

Zakaria Zbeidi, Al Aqsa's commander in Jenin, said his force was ready to end the Palestinian insurgency against Israel in the northern West Bank after a military withdrawal. Zbeidi, who Palestinian sources said escaped a recent Israeli assassination attempt, said he was asked to bring his men into the Palestinian security forces.

"Yes, we're willing to do that," Zbeidi said. "But first Israel has to withdraw from Jenin."

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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