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Arafat expected to promise reforms to end dispute
Updated: 2004-07-27 11:13

Palestinian legislators said after talks with Yasser Arafat they expected him to resolve differences with Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie on Tuesday by promising anti-corruption and security reforms.

"(Arafat) agreed to speed up the reform drive to end the state of lawlessness in the Palestinian territories," legislator Hanan Ashrawi said after the three-hour meeting with the Palestinian president late on Monday.

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat attends a meeting at his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, July 25, 2004. Palestinian legislators said after talks with Arafat they expected him to resolve differences with Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie on July 27 by promising anti-corruption and security reforms.  [Reuters]
Arafat's leadership was challenged this month when gunmen linked to his Fatah faction sparked chaos in Gaza by kidnapping a number of Palestinian officials and foreigners and demanding he reform the Palestinian Authority and security forces.

A power struggle has been brewing in Gaza in anticipation of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw troops and settlers from the occupied territory by the end of 2005.

Qurie, widely viewed as a moderate voice in the Palestinian Authority, has called for reform and submitted his resignation to Arafat last week over the issue.

He wants Arafat to relinquish control, both direct and indirect, over security forces. So far, Arafat has agreed to only superficial changes.

The focus is now on a cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

Ashrawi said Arafat would demand the Palestinian attorney general begin legal procedures against any officials involved in corruption. Another legislator said Arafat would give his interior minister powers to fight corruption.

The legislators were part of a 14-member committee formed by the Palestinian parliament last week to convince Arafat to speed up reform and enforce the rule of law.

International mediators regard such reforms as critical to reducing violence in the Palestinian conflict with Israel and salvaging a U.S.-backed peace "road map" promising the Palestinians their own state.

Qurie is frustrated at his lack of power to rid public bodies, above all a muddle of security agencies, of feuding and cronyism and make them more democratic and accountable.

Sharon said on Monday there was no turning back on his Gaza withdrawal plan, even after 100,000 Israelis mounted the biggest protest so far against evacuating Jewish settlers from the coastal strip.

"I decided to proceed with the disengagement plan because it is clear that Israel cannot remain in the Gaza Strip forever," his office quoted him as saying.

But Sharon faces more trouble from rebellious ministers of his own rightist Likud party, who led a rally on Sunday night to denounce his bid to forge a unity government with the center-left Labour party to carry out the Gaza pullout.

Israel occupied Gaza and the West Bank after the 1967 Middle East war.

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