Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat yesterday accused Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) of "betraying the interests of the Palestinian people."
The outburst, whose ferocity surprised even Arafat's long-time associates, occurred during the chairman's meeting with UN envoy Terje Larsen, according to a Palestinian source who was present.
"Abu Mazen is betraying the interests of the Palestinian people," Arafat said, according to the source. "He is behaving like a tyro who doesn't know what he is doing. How does he dare to stand next to an Israeli flag and next to [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon and to act friendly with a man whose history is known to all the world?"
Diplomatic sources said that Larsen responded by stressing the importance of supporting the process Abbas has begun, which includes a cease-fire and the resumption of diplomatic talks.
Arafat's outburst yesterday follows a wave of similar attacks by his associates that began at Monday night's Fatah Central Committee meeting and have been gaining strength all week. Arafat's associates have accused Abbas of crimes ranging from misconduct in negotiations with Israel to conspiring with Israel to keep Arafat under siege in Ramallah.
On Tuesday, in response to these attacks, Abbas resigned from the central committee and also offered to resign as prime minister if his positions were unacceptable to Arafat and the Fatah movement. Both Arafat and the panel rejected the offer, but the power struggle has continued unabated.
In another element of this struggle, Haaretz has learned that Arafat recently offered Jibril Rajoub, who he fired last year as head of the West Bank's Preventive Security Service, a new job as the official in charge of West Bank mayors. Since Arafat also recently gave the mayors the authority to give orders to members of the Palestinian security services, this would essentially give Rajoub, who still commands the loyalty of many officers in the Preventive Security Service, broad official powers over this service - a direct challenge to Abbas and his hand-picked security chief, Mohammed Dahlan. Rajoub has not yet accepted the position, but is reportedly tempted.
Additionally, Arafat put a close associate, Hani Al-Hassan, in charge of all of Fatah's affairs in the West Bank - a position from which he can also make life very difficult for Abbas.
Most senior Fatah activists support Arafat against Abbas, but the prime minister also has supporters, and the fight is causing a serious rift within Fatah, Palestinian sources said.
Mofaz, Dahlan meet
Meanwhile, Dahlan held his second meeting of the week with Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz at the Erez checkpoint last night. Israeli sources said the meeting was aimed at "maintaining the momentum" rather than reaching concrete agreements.
Dahlan urged Israel to release more Palestinian prisoners and to transfer security authority for another West Bank city to the PA. But Mofaz rejected both requests, saying the PA must first begin disarming the terrorist organizations.
"The next few weeks are critical, and the moment of truth is approaching," he said.
Mofaz did say, as Haaretz reported earlier this week, that Israel would consider a limited release of Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners - something it has refused to do until now. However, he added, any decisions will be made at next week's meeting between Sharon and Abbas.
Regarding the transfer of another West Bank city, Mofaz said the PA has not yet proved its ability to fight terror in Gaza and Bethlehem, the two areas it has already received. Until it does, he said, there will be no further handovers - particularly since most of the West Bank cities, located fairly close to the seam line with Israel, are considered very high risk.
Despite Israel's demand that the PA step up its anti-terror activities, IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon yesterday expressed optimism about the talks for the first time, citing the decline in Palestinian incitement and in warnings of terror attacks. The Shin Bet security service currently has just over 20 such warnings, compared to almost 70 two weeks ago.
Nevertheless, sporadic violence continued yesterday. Two Palestinians, both apparently in search of work, were lightly wounded in separate attempts to infiltrate into Israel from the Gaza Strip. In the first incident, near Kfar Aza, soldiers opened fire at three Palestinians who crossed the fence into Israel, wounding one and arresting the other two. In the second incident, near Kerem Shalom, a settlement security officer opened fire at a Palestinian who crossed the fence, lightly wounding him.
In addition, Palestinians threw rocks at a car on the Trans-Israel Highway, shattering the windshield but not injuring the occupants, police said. Initially, the driver had thought it was a shooting attack, but police found no evidence of bullets. The road, though inside Israel, is only a few kilometers from the West Bank city of Qalqilyah.
There were also some shooting incidents in the territories, but with no Israeli casualties. Near Nablus, soldiers defused seven pipe bombs.
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