Palestinian PM threatens to quit after Arafat row

Yasser Arafat's health was in question again yesterday and the peace process was thrown into further confusion after the new Palestinian Prime Minister, Ahmed Qureia, threatened to resign.

The speculation over Mr Arafat's health grew when he failed to turn up to a meeting of the Palestinian parliament at which he had been scheduled to make a speech.

Following reports that Mr Arafat had suffered a mild heart attack - denied by the Palestinian Authority - and his strained appearance earlier this week, hundreds of foreign diplomats and journalists attended the meeting of the Palestinian Legislative Council, the parliament, in the hope of seeing him first hand.

But the start of the meeting was delayed for an hour before the deputy speaker announced that it had been postponed. This raised suspicions that Mr Arafat might not have been in good enough health to deliver the planned speech.

Later in the day, the new Palestinian cabinet, announced only a few days earlier by Mr Arafat, was thrown into doubt by a discussion over the niceties of Palestinian constitutional law. Mr Qureia threatened to resign, following a row with Mr Arafat, just as his predecessor Abu Mazen did a month ago.

A furious Mr Qureia reportedly told Mr Arafat: "Just relieve me of this job" before storming out of a meeting yesterday. There were unconfirmed reports that he later sent Mr Arafat a handwritten note threatening to resign.

If Mr Qureia resigns, the region will be plunged even further into chaos and Mr Arafat will soon run out of candidates for Prime Minister.

The dispute yesterday centred on whether the new cabinet should be an emergency government or a regular government. Mr Arafat declared a state of emergency at the weekend, in what was perceived to be an attempt to show that he was serious about reining in militants. That allowed him to appoint Mr Qureia and a cabinet without referring the names to parliament for approval.

Many members of parliament were said to be furious at not being consulted. Furthermore, the new Interior Minister, Nasser Youssef, refused to take up his post without parliamentary approval.

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