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Palestinian PM threatens to quit
( 2003-10-09 00:03) (Agencies)

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie threatened to quit on Thursday in what appeared to be a dispute with President Yasser Arafat over security powers key to a revival of Middle East peacemaking.

"Qurie told Arafat he will not form the cabinet and doesn't want to be prime minister anymore," a Palestinian official said after the indefinite postponement of a session of parliament that was to ratify an emergency government sworn in on Tuesday.

Arafat's response to Qurie's statement was not immediately clear.

Palestinian officials said Arafat wanted to dismiss Nasser Youssef, who as interior minister would have security powers crucial to a U.S.-backed peace "road map," and that Qurie opposed the move.

Youssef, a major general, boycotted Tuesday's swearing-in ceremony in what was widely seen as a sign of strained relations with Arafat, with whom both he and Qurie have close ties.

Palestinian sources said Youssef also did not want to take up his duties without a parliamentary vote to lend legitimacy to any security measures he might implement.

"We have an overloaded wagon of complexities," said Saeb Erekat, incoming minister without portfolio.

Arafat's reluctance to yield security control was a major factor behind the decision by Qurie's predecessor, Mohammed Abbas, to resign as prime minister last month.

The road map calls on Arafat's security services to dismantle militant groups spearheading a three-year-old uprising for statehood.

Palestinian leaders, accusing Israel of failing to live up to its obligations under the peace plan, have said such a crackdown could lead to civil war.


While the Palestinian Authority dealt with its new crisis, a suicide bomber blew up at an Israeli army checkpoint near the West Bank city of Tulkarm, close to the border with Israel.

Israeli military sources said the bomber was killed and at least two Israelis were wounded.

The incident followed an attack by a female suicide bomber that killed 19 Israelis in northern Israel on Saturday. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Thursday's blast.

Arafat, who has been weakened by what aides described as a bad case of flu that is not life-threatening, had been due to speak at the parliamentary session.

Qurie had been expected to urge an end to a "state of chaos" in the Palestinian territories, a phrase Islamist lawmakers believe hints at moves against militants.

Arafat declared a state of emergency on Sunday after Israeli ministers renewed calls to "remove" him following Saturday's suicide bombing in Haifa.

His pale appearance at the ministerial swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday set the rumor mill spinning about his health.

"He is not dying," a Palestinian official close to Arafat, 74, told Reuters, denying a report in the British newspaper The Guardian that he had a mild heart attack last week.

A senior aide said an Egyptian medical team headed by President Hosni Mubarak's private physician had examined Arafat at his headquarters in Ramallah and would have the final results of their tests later on Thursday.

Arafat had lost a lot of weight but his appearance had improved over the past three days and he has been more alert, aides said.

Israel responded to suicide bombings last month by issuing an open-ended threat to "remove" Arafat, who has been confined by Israeli roadblocks and patrols to his battered Muqata headquarters for nearly two years.

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