Arafat rejects Palestinian prime minister's resignation

Yasser Arafat yesterday kept at bay the mounting internal and international pressure for the long-delayed reform of his security apparatus by unilaterally announcing that he had rejected the resignation of his Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia.

Yasser Arafat yesterday kept at bay the mounting internal and international pressure for the long-delayed reform of his security apparatus by unilaterally announcing that he had rejected the resignation of his Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia.

The stand-off between the Palestinian Authority President and Mr Qureia came after an emergency Cabinet meeting at Mr Arafat's Ramallah headquarters failed to resolve the power struggle within the dominant Fatah organisation.

The meeting came after the UN General Secretary Kofi Annan joined the chorus of exhortations to resolve the "serious crisis" facing the Palestinian leadership by accepting the need to eradicate corruption and nepotism. Mr Annan backed the robust condemnation last week by his Middle East envoy, Terje Roed-Larsen, of Mr Arafat's "passivity and inaction". He said: "Chairman Arafat should take the necessary steps to bring the situation under control."

As Mr Qureia appeared to retreat from immediate fulfilment of his resignation notice, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a senior aide to the Palestinian President, using Mr Qureia's familiar name, said: "Arafat decided to reject Abu Ala's resignation, and renewed his confidence in him."

Mr Qureia, who told the Cabinet that he saw himself as a "caretaker Prime Minister" may be urged to address a meeting of the full Palestinian Legislative Council today.

Meanwhile Avi Dichter, head of Shin Bet, told Knesset members that the domestic intelligence agency had a list of "150 to 200" Jews who were "actively awaiting" the death of Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister. Most were settlers in the West Bank and Gazaopposed to the Gaza withdrawal plan.

* A Hizbollah militant and two Israeli soldiers were killed yesterday in heavy exchanges of fire along the Israel-Lebanon border. Both sides denied they had started the shooting.

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