Arafat's choice of PM angers Israel by refusing to crack down on Hamas

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The Independent Online

Peace looked as remote as ever yesterday as Ahmed Qureia, the Palestinian Prime Minister designate, appeared to be on a collision course with Israel, even before he began putting together his cabinet.

Mr Qureia, popularly known as Abu Ala, has specified from the start that he will not crack down on Hamas and other armed groups, and that he will avoid confrontation with Yasser Arafat, whose refusal to yield control of key security services prompted Abu Mazen to resign on Saturday.

Mr Qureia would pursue the same softly-softly approach to the militants as his predecessor, a well-placed senior Palestinian official told The Independent. "He will ask the factions to accept a ceasefire. He will try to achieve a strategic national understanding with them."

Mr Qureia sets great store by his rapport with Mr Arafat, despite the fact that Israel and the United States have ostracised the beleaguered President.

"Abu Ala will not accept a power struggle," the official said. "He will consult with [Mr] Arafat on every step and on a daily basis."

Jonathan Peled, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said: "If Abu Ala is not going to learn in any constructive way from Abu Mazen's mistakes, we're going to be at a dead end very soon. There's a limit to how much the Palestinians can postpone fulfilling their obligations to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, to confront Hamas and Islamic Jihad and to rein in the various terror groups."

Mr Qureia deepened Israeli fears by canvassing another of the veteran leader's loyalists, General Nasser Yousef, to serve in the pivotal role as Interior Minister.

Mr Qureia called for US and European support. He also demanded a commitment from Israel to curb military operations and stop isolating Mr Arafat.

A spokeswoman for Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, said Mr Qureia was highly respected in Europe and would get support.

The 66-year-old former Speaker of the Palestinian parliament he faces difficulties. Dr Khaled Qureia, his brother, said: "I ask Allah to help him. It is a very, very heavy load. It is heavier than a human being could bear. I do not expect miracles from him. I live with him in the same house. He has been coming home late every evening, tired, exhausted and upset. He was arguing until the last moment that Abu Mazen should take this job again and form a new government. He may succeed and he may fail. If Israel wants him to fail, he will fail, even if he were the Prophet Mohammed."