Arafat sacks top officers to quell unrest

In a desperate attempt to stem escalating anarchy in the Gaza Strip, Yasser Arafat yesterday sacked two senior security commanders and promised to amalgamate eight rival forces into three. But after an emergency cabinet meeting, the Palestinian leader rejected the resignation of his Prime Minister, Ahmed Qureia.

Mr Qureia, known as Abu Ala, announced that ministers would meet again tomorrow to decide whether to quit en bloc. "This is a true disaster," he said after rebel gunmen on Friday kidnapped the Palestinian police commander, a colonel and four French aid workers. "This is a level of chaos that we have never seen before."

Early yesterday, Mr Arafat's National Security Council declared a state of emergency and sent troops to protect government buildings. Mr Arafat then dismissed General Ghazi Jabali, the national police chief, and Abdel Razek al-Majaideh, commander of the General Security Service. General Jabali, who was held at gunpoint by abductors for about three hours, was replaced by Saeb al-Ajez, the police commander in northern Gaza. Mousa Arafat, the head of Palestinian intelligence and the President's cousin, took over the General Security Service.

Palestinian dissenters dismissed Mr Arafat's reforms as "superficial and unconvincing". Abdel Fattah Hamayel, a former minister, told The Independent on Sunday: "I do not believe that these measures are genuine. We need radical changes, not disgusting superficial manoeuvres."

Mr Hamayel joined a chorus of censure on Mr Arafat, who has consistently refused to cede control to his prime ministers and security commanders. "We have had enough of this one-man show," he said. "There is no accountability. There is no law. There is no independent judiciary."

The shake-up came at the end of a week in which Mr Arafat faced mounting pressure for failing to assert his authority, fight corruption and reform his multiple security forces. He was being pushed to the wall, not just by the Israelis, but also by Palestinian and international critics.

"We gave the Palestinian Authority three years to carry out reforms," Abu Iyad, a spokesman for General Jabali's kidnappers, said on the al-Jazeera satellite television station. "We waited a long time, but they didn't do anything. Now we're doing this our way."

Bassem Eid, director of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, said: "What's going on in Gaza just proves that the Palestinian Authority is not functioning. Abu Ala has done nothing since his appointment as Prime Minister. Arafat is the obstacle to any reforms within Palestinian society."

Abdel Sattar Qassem, a political science professor, concurred: "Arafat is the man primarily responsible for the chaos ... He does not want any reforms ... We are moving towards civil war."

He blamed Mr Qureia as much as Mr Arafat: "Abu Ala is part of the system. These people are liars."

Earlier in the week, Terje Roed Larsen, the special United Nations envoy to the Middle East peace process, lambasted Mr Arafat for a "lack of political will" to introduce reforms. Mr Arafat, who had cherished Mr Larsen as a friend of the Palestinian cause, responded by declaring him persona non grata.

In a report to the Security Council, the Norwegian diplomat said: "The Palestinian Authority ... has made no progress on its core obligation to take immediate action ... to end violence and combat terror, and to reform and reorganise the Palestinian Authority."

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