Mrs. Arafat, Khaddoumi challenge interim leadership

Special to World
Thursday, November 11, 2004

RAMALLAH The new interim Palestinian leadership has been challenged in a move that could hamper plans to succeed the late Yasser Arafat.

Palestinian sources said PLO Foreign Department chief Farouq Khaddoumi has challenged the proposed appointment of a four-member team to succeed Arafat. The sources said Khaddoumi has claimed his right to succeed the PLO chairman.

The four-member team has been composed of PLO Executive Council secretary Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, Palestine National Council chairman Salim Zaanoun and Palestinian Legislative Council speaker Rawhi Fatouh.

On Thursday, a French military hospital reported Arafat's death. PA secretary-general Tayeb Abdul Rahim confirmed the report and officials said he would be buried in Ramallah on Nov. 13.

Hours later, Fatah insurgents gathered at Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah and shouted slogans against Abbas. At the same time, Fatah loyalists hurled stones at Israeli troops and motorists and burned tires throughout the West Bank.

In the Gaza Strip, Israeli troops killed three members of a seven-member Palestinian insurgency squad that tried to storm the Israeli community of Netsarim.

Khaddoumi, whose leadership bid has been supported by Suha Arafat, was one of the few PLO officials permitted to visit her husband in Paris. After a week of efforts, Qurei was finally allowed to enter Arafat's hospital room on Nov. 9.

The sources said Khaddoumi's challenge has been supported by PLO officials based outside of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They said these officials have been concerned of major cutbacks in the PLO in wake of Arafat's death.

On Thursday, the PLO Executive Council appointed Abbas chairman of the PLO. Khaddoumi was appointed head of Fatah, the largest movement in the PLO.

At the same time, Fatouh was selected interim PA chairman by the PLC.

Fatah was expected to offer Abbas as a candidate for PA chairman in elections that could take place in mid-January. Palestinian sources said they don't expect Abbas to face any serious challenge.

Khaddoumi, who has raised the prospect that Israel poisoned Arafat, has sent a five-page communique to Fatah members in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that called for an escalation of the war against Israel. The sources said.

Khaddoumi has urged Fatah to go underground and launch an armed campaign to expel Israel from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

So far, several Fatah commanders have already endorsed Khaddoumi's call.

The sources said they have attempted to organize an effort against both Israel as well as the new interim Palestinian leadership.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which have called for a collective leadership, have also challenged Abbas's authority. Islamic sources said the two insurgency groups have warned that they would not regard Abbas as they had Arafat. Over the last decade, Arafat's leadership had never been directly challenged by the Islamic opposition.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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