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Palestinians issue disarmament conditions
Updated: 2005-06-12 07:50

The Palestinian Authority has no intention of disarming militant groups as long as the Israeli occupation continues, the foreign minister said Saturday.

Israel has long demanded the Palestinians crack down on the militant groups, but Palestinian officials have chosen instead to try to co-opt the militants.

"The dismantling of armed organizations is not on the table because weapons are legal as long as the occupation exists," Foreign Minister Nasser Al Kidwa told Palestinian television, according to a transcript released by his office. "Possession of weapons is a strategic issue as long as there is occupation."

However, Al Kidwa said the weapons should be organized and not used to break the law. Some of the powerful militant groups operate as armed gangs in Palestinian towns and cities, challenging the security forces and fomenting chaos and violence. More than four years of fighting with Israel has badly weakened the security forces.

Early Saturday, about 40 gunmen from various militant groups attacked a security headquarters in Gaza City, sparking a shootout with Palestinian security officers. No one was injured, witnesses and security officials said.

Soon after the fighting stopped shots were fired near the Gaza house of a Palestinian security chief, Brig. Gen. Rashid Abu Shbak. No injuries were reported in that shooting either.

The shootout came two days after gunmen refused to identify themselves at a Palestinian checkpoint in Gaza, sparking a shootout with security forces that left a militant slightly injured.

Meanwhile, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas proposed a law creating the position of a deputy president to prevent a power vacuum if he were to resign, die or fall ill, the Palestinian newspaper Al Ayyam reported Saturday.

Under Abbas' proposal, the legislature would appoint a temporary deputy until a new one can be elected in the next presidential election.

Palestinian officials have long pushed for the creation of a deputy president, but Yasser Arafat, the longtime Palestinian leader who died in November, resisted fearing any challenge to his power.

In an effort to fight corruption that was rampant under Arafat's rule, Abbas also has appointed a commission to crack down on the practice. The commission will be independent and will have the power to target any politicians or other officials, Ibrahim Abu Anaja, the lawmaker overseeing the panel, said Saturday.

The international community has demanded the Palestinians crack down on corruption.

Also Saturday, about 40 Palestinians marched through the streets of Ramallah calling for an end to corruption and chaos in the Palestinian Authority and protesting the recent decision to postpone legislative elections, which had been set for July.

The organizers said the march signaled the beginning of a new popular movement called Kafa, or "Enough" in Arabic, which was based on democracy movements in Egypt and other Arab countries.

"People will not stand anymore for the freezing of elections and the continuation of chaos and corruption," prominent Palestinian lawmaker Azmi Shoabi said.

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