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Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade splits with Arafat over money

Special to World Tribune.com
MIDDLE EAST NEWSLINE
Monday, July 12, 2004

RAMALLAH Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat has been confronted by a vigorous struggle by his ruling Fatah movement to reduce his powers as part of a reform campaign.

Hundreds of Fatah members, including key veterans, have joined an effort for reform within the ruling Palestinian movement that would include elections and a significant reduction in Arafat's authority. The effort also envisioned the conversion of the Fatah-dominated Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade into a political movement and a purge of most of Arafat's aides accused of corruption.

The document was drafted and distributed in wake of Arafat's decision to end most of the funding to Al Aqsa. Palestinian sources said Arafat significantly reduced funding to Al Aqsa in May after he agreed to a demand by donor nations to directly pay PA security forces through the Finance Ministry, headed by U.S.-educated minister Salam Fayyad.

"Over the last two months, the entire attitude by Al Aqsa toward Arafat has changed," a PA official said. "As long as Arafat was paying the bills, Al Aqsa consistently pledged allegiance to him. Once the money stopped, Al Aqsa has been looking for options."

The 10-page document appeared to be part of an effort by Al Aqsa established by Arafat in 2000 to lead the Palestinian war against Israel to garner support from within the West Bank and Gaza Strip as well as from other insurgency groups. The plan called for the opposition Hamas and Islamic Jihad to join a national unity government in which Arafat would turn into a figurehead rather than the sole authority he has been since 1994.

The document also asserted that the PA has been a vehicle for corruption by senior Fatah officials. Al Aqsa criticized the excessive lifestyle led by Arafat's aides and their families.

"Wives and sons and daughters of officials are registered as employees and receive high salaries from the Palestinian Authority and are either at home or abroad," the document said.

PA officials and Palestinian sources close to Al Aqsa said the drive against Arafat was sparked by the halt in salaries to the insurgency group.

They described a meeting in which senior Al Aqsa operatives pleaded with Arafat to stop Fayyad from removing thousands of police officers from the PA payroll. Most Al Aqsa insurgents had been registered as PA police and security officers to ensure that they receive a monthly salary financed by the European Union and donor nations.

"Arafat shook his head without saying a word," a PA source who recalled the meeting said. "Then, he finally said, 'Why don't you talk to Fayyad. He controls the money, now.'"

Many Al Aqsa members as well Fatah members have decided to support former PA security Mohammed Dahlan in the effort to institute reform.

Palestinian sources said Dahlan has told Al Aqsa and Fatah operatives that his drive to marginalize Arafat and expel his aides has been supported by the international community, including Egypt and the United States.

Dahlan has been organizing meetings to prepare for Fatah elections by September 2004, an effort opposed by Arafat. Palestinian sources said the participation of Al Aqsa fighters could provide Fatah dissidents with armed support that could resist intimidation from Arafat and his supporters.

"Dahlan is promising Al Aqsa and Fatah dissidents that they won't be swept aside," a PA official said. "There could be a confrontation soon between Dahlan and Arafat."


Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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