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Palestinian PM, Arafat face off; violence flares
( 2003-09-04 16:13) (Agencies)

Palestinian gunmen killed an Israeli in the West Bank on Thursday, hours before a meeting of Palestinian lawmakers crucial to deciding whether their prime minister can survive a power struggle with Yasser Arafat.

Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, a moderate appointed by Arafat in April under U.S. pressure, plans to seek new powers he sees as vital to peacemaking with Israel but which the Palestinian president has been reluctant to cede to him, officials said.

Abbas has signaled he may resign if he fails to get his way, which could doom a U.S.-brokered peace "road map" already endangered by a relapse into bloodshed and the cancellation of a cease-fire by Islamic militants.

It was unclear whether a confidence vote would be held at Thursday's session of parliament as efforts continued to mediate a solution to the political crisis.

Underlining Abbas's troubles, a militant group affiliated with the Fatah faction, in which both he and Arafat hold leadership roles, was one of the groups that claimed joint responsibility for an ambush near Jenin in the West Bank.

Israeli security sources said gunmen opened fire, killing an Israeli.

The power struggle between Abbas and Arafat has centerd on Abbas's demand, backed by the United States, for control over the security forces who are crucial for reining in militants as required by the road map.

Arafat has retained authority over most security services, drawing U.S. and Israeli accusations that he is trying to undermine Abbas, who lacks his rival's grass-roots popularity.


In a sign of the pressures Abbas faces, the Fatah movement -- founded by Arafat during his days as a guerrilla leader -- planned a series of pro-Arafat rallies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Thursday.

A leaflet distributed by Fatah's Ramallah branch accused Abbas's administration of acting like a U.S. and Israeli puppet, saying: "We call upon you...to continue to work relentlessly and exert all effort to bring down this government."

Arafat, largely confined by Israeli forces to his Ramallah headquarters and shunned by Israel and the United States, was not due to attend the meeting of the 85-member parliament in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

But his presence was expected to be felt. Palestinian officials have said Arafat is challenging Abbas to show the world that only he has the clout to push forward peace moves.

Information Minister Nabil Amr told Reuters on Wednesday that "Abbas will ask for support for his policies or he leaves" his post, but later denied he meant Abbas had threatened to quit.

Parliamentary speaker Ahmed Korei said on Al-Jazeera television that if parliament "thinks the solution is an expression of no-confidence it can do that." That would allow a strengthened Arafat to dismiss or reappoint him, he said.

Fatah lawmaker Qadoura Faris said all 85 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council backed Abbas's reform agenda, "but what bothers us is the way he is administering his crisis with Arafat."

In Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell said: "Those forces which still receive their instructions from Mr Arafat should be put under the responsibility of Mr. Abbas."

Israel, saying Palestinian police are ineffective, has killed 11 militants and five bystanders in attacks from the air since a suicide bomber killed 21 people on a Jerusalem bus on August 19 following an Israeli attack on an Islamic militant.

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