Fatah revolt against Arafat brings chaos to Gaza Strip

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The Independent Online

A revolt in the Gaza Strip against Yasser Arafat's autocratic rule worsened yesterday as dozens of militants linked to his own Fatah movement sacked a base of the Palestinian intelligence service, commanded by his cousin, Mousa Arafat.

A revolt in the Gaza Strip against Yasser Arafat's autocratic rule worsened yesterday as dozens of militants linked to his own Fatah movement sacked a base of the Palestinian intelligence service, commanded by his cousin, Mousa Arafat.

The rebels drove out the security guards soon after midnight and seized the building in the southern Gaza town of Khan Yunis. They stole weapons, smashed furniture and set fire to two offices and cars parked outside.

They were protesting at Mr Arafat's promotion of his unpopular kinsman to head a new amalgamated security service. He had dismissed Ghazi Jabali, the national police chief, who was kidnapped for three hours on Friday and was said to have confessed to raping Palestinian women and embezzling millions of dollars.

Two thousand demonstrators marched through Gaza City on Saturday night chanting: "One dog, Jabali, has gone, and another dog, Mousa Arafat, is taking his place."

Sufyan Abu Zaida, a deputy minister and member of the team that negotiated the 1993 Oslo accords with Israel, said Palestinians would not accept the appointment. "This shows intolerable disregard for people," he said. "Thousands in Gaza will rise against this decision. They are fed up."

Mousa Arafat, he claimed, was among the most corrupt of Palestinian officials. Other sources in Gaza said the intelligence chief was widely suspected of creaming profits from cigarettes and drugs smuggled, along with weapons, through tunnels controlled by his service. Mousa Arafat insisted he would not quit. Juma Ghali, another security chief, did resign yesterday as commander of the Palestinian navy. It has no ships, but operates as one of a dozen security services deployed, often far from the sea, in the West Bank and Gaza.

He said he was protesting at the chaos in Gaza, where Fatah dissidents abducted a Palestinian colonel and four French aid workers as well as Gen Jabali. Mr Arafat was yesterday trying to persuade Ahmad Qureia, his Prime Minister, to withdraw the resignation he submitted on Saturday. "This is a true disaster," Mr Qureia said in Ramallah after the government had declared a state of emergency. "This is a level of chaos we have never seen before."

The President and the Prime Minister talked for four hours yesterday. "I totally reject your resignation," Mr Arafat said. "I consider it non-existent." The prevailing view last night was that Mr Qureia, who has never been allowed to function independently, wants to go, but may yield to Mr Arafat's entreaties.

The Fatah dissidents are protesting at the President's failure to root out corruption, reform the security services and share power. But the masses have not taken to the streets. Gaza was quiet for most of yesterday. Observers in Gaza say the protests are orchestrated by younger Fatah leaders, such as the former preventive security chief Mohammed Dahlan, who are jockeying for power in anticipation of an Israeli withdrawal by the end of next year.

* Israel's security service killed a would-be Palestinian suicide bomber who got cold feet, and arrested three militants accused of plotting an attack in central Jerusalem. Wassim Jalad was supposed to blow up the Kaffit coffee shop in the German Colony neighbourhood on 11 July. He was killed in a shootout on Thursday.

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