Arafat's absence leaves vacuum of power

Special to World
Monday, November 1, 2004

RAMALLAH The Palestinian Authority has been thrown into turmoil amid the absence of Yasser Arafat.

PA officials said the PA Cabinet has not been briefed regarding key issues meant to maintain operations in Arafat's absence. They said financial and security decisions still required the approval of Arafat, who has been hospitalized in a military facility outside Paris.

"It is true that many things need Arafat's signature and approval, like financial and security issues, and we will be in touch with him in Paris," Palestinian Legislative Council speaker Rawhi Fatouh said.

Arafat arrived in Paris on a French Air Force jet on Oct. 29, and on Saturday his physicians prevented all visits except for family members. The physicians said they would issue a statement on Arafat's health on Nov. 1.

On Saturday, the PLO Executive Committee met in Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah. It was the first meeting of the 12-member executive committee without Arafat since 1969.

Arafat has approved a three-member emergency committee to operate the PA and PLO in his absence. Official said Qurei was meant to run the PA's daily affairs while Abbas was appointed acting chairman of the PLO. Palestine National Council chairman Salim Zaanoun, the third member of the committee, was said to be a symbolic figure.

"We are in touch with the president and still receive his instructions as he is head of the Palestine Liberation Organization," Abbas said.

On Sunday, the PLC plans to hold an emergency session to discuss Arafat's departure. Palestinian sources said several legislators were expected to demand that Abbas and Qurei assume full authority during the absence of the PA chairman.

"I don't think anybody can make any decisions while Yasser Arafat is still alive," PLC member Hassan Khreishah said. "So things will remain as they are."

Palestinian insurgency groups have pledged to maintain stability in wake of Arafat's departure. But they stressed that they would continue attacks on Israeli civilian and military targets.

"The strategy is based upon continuing the resistance against the Zionist occupation and defending the unity of the Palestinian people without entering internal Palestinian conflicts," Hamas spokesman Ismail Haniyeh said.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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