Arafat tries to bring in loyalist to take over all security

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The Independent Online

Palestinian leaders were locked in a power struggle yesterday triggered by Yasser Arafat's attempt to hand control over all security forces to a loyalist in the apparent hope of sidelining the US-backed Palestinian security chief.

The security chief, Mohammed Dahlan, is supported by the Palestinian Prime Minister, Abu Mazen, whom Mr Arafat has repeatedly tried to undermine since appointing him in April under US pressure.

International mediators want Mr Arafat to relinquish control of the security forces and allow Mr Mazen and Mr Dahlan to clamp down on militants, in response to a Hamas bus bombing that killed 21 people in Jerusalem last week. Mr Arafat continues to command several of the security branches, and Mr Mazen and Mr Dahlan supervise the rest.

On Saturday, Mr Arafat proposed to pass the supreme command to his ally Nasser Yousef. Such an appointment would in effect sideline Mr Dahlan, whose forces have begun arresting weapons smugglers in the Gaza Strip, seizing weapons and detaining at least a dozen suspects. His forces also sealed off two tunnels used to smuggle weapons from Egypt to the Gaza Strip.

A Palestinian official said he doubted that Mr Arafat's move would be approved by the central committee of the ruling Fatah faction. A meeting of the committee yesterday was cancelled for reasons that remained unclear.

Mr Yousef, a veteran of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, was part of a senior guard who spent the 1980s in exile with Mr Arafat in Tunis and Lebanon. In 1994, when the Palestinian Authority was established, Mr Yousef was a senior police commander.

The Palestinian information minister, Nabil Amr, denied Israeli media reports that Mr Dahlan and Mr Mazen were threatening to resign.

"There is a small crisis now about how we will strengthen the unity of our security forces ... and how the Palestinians will enforce the willingness of the authority and the rule of law," he said.

"We want to unify our security forces under one title, under one address."

Palestinian militants fired a new, longer-range rocket into Israel yesterday, the Israeli army said. The rocket landed on a beach four miles from th e city of Ashkelon.