Arafat Scrambles to Calm Rebellion
New Head of Security Named After Violent Reaction to Cousin's Appointment
By John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, July 20, 2004; Page A10
JERUSALEM, July 16 -- Yasser Arafat continued shaking up his top security advisers on Monday in an effort to calm a growing street rebellion in the Gaza Strip over official corruption, but it was unclear whether the Palestinian leader's gestures would be enough to silence demands for reform.
Two days after appointing his cousin, Moussa Arafat, as head of general security in the Gaza Strip, Arafat placed him under the command of Brig. Gen. Abdel Razek Majaide, a generally well-regarded official who was named head of public security for all Palestinian territories.
Senior Palestinian officials were not able to say whether the move diminished Moussa Arafat's influence or powers, and it was not clear whether it would satisfy calls for sweeping change from members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed wing of Arafat's Fatah political movement that has begun an aggressive campaign to purge corrupt officials from the senior ranks of the Palestinian Authority.
A statement by al-Aqsa in Gaza had called for the dismissal of Moussa Arafat, who has a reputation for loyalty to his cousin and for corruption and whose appointment on Saturday was denounced as cronyism. The group's statement warned other officials that they should "repent and return the stolen money back to the people."
"Nothing has changed," said Ziad Abu Amr, an independent, pro-reform Palestinian legislator from Gaza City. The need to curb corruption and implement reforms still has not been addressed, Abu Amr said, and even though Moussa Arafat now answers to a higher authority, apparently "his appointment still stands."
Moussa Arafat's posting as head of general security in Gaza -- one of the Palestinian Authority's three top security posts in the strip -- sparked protests. On Sunday, crowds sacked the Palestinian Authority's military intelligence headquarters in the southern Gaza town of Khan Yunis, and burned several offices. Later, about a dozen people were wounded in a gun battle between al-Aqsa militants and uniformed Palestinian security forces in the border town of Rafah.
The uprising by members of al-Aqsa who swear loyalty to Yasser Arafat was unprecedented. It seemed to reinforce demands made by the group in a recent report that called on Arafat, 74, to relinquish some of his powers, fire corrupt Palestinian Authority officials and implement reforms, particularly in security agencies. The series of events is seen as a bid by a younger generation of Palestinians -- who have been doing most of the fighting in the nearly four-year-long uprising against Israel -- to take a political seat alongside the old guard that surrounds Arafat and which is widely regarded as corrupt.
Matters came to a head with a series of kidnappings on Friday, including the abduction of the Palestinian Authority's police chief in Gaza, Ghazi Jabali, who was paraded through a refugee camp by militants and accused of stealing millions of dollars in public funds. He was released unharmed after a few hours, and Arafat fired him the next day.
The abductions, which militant groups said were intended to highlight corruption and the need for reform, caused Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia to resign, along with his cabinet, on Saturday, decrying the state of chaos in Gaza. Arafat, however, refused to accept the resignation.
On Monday, Qureia seemed to indicate that the crisis was passing and that he likely would remain as prime minister.
Speaking to reporters after a cabinet meeting, he said that "the state of chaos and lawlessness" in Gaza had prompted his resignation, but that most of his ministers were against it. The offer to resign still stood, however, because Arafat had not yet officially replied in writing, Qureia said.
In the Shati refugee camp adjacent to Gaza City on the Mediterranean, Israeli missiles twice hit a house, wounding a militant Palestinian leader and four other people, a spokesman for a Palestinian group told the Associated Press.
A spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, Abu Abir, said the airstrike was aimed at a house used by Abed Quka the group's leader in northern Gaza. He was wounded in the attack, but his condition was not known.
Correspondent Molly Moore in Gaza City and special correspondent Sufian Taha in Ramallah, in the West Bank, contributed to this report.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company