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Palestinian Leaders in Power Struggle - 2003-08-24

Palestinian leaders are engaged in a power struggle over who will handle the key security portfolio following the collapse of a seven-week-old ceasefire by Palestinian armed groups.

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and his prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, appear to be at odds over who should control the Palestinian security forces.

The dispute came to the fore after international mediators called for Mr. Arafat to give Mr. Abbas and his Security Minister, Mohammed Dahlan, the clear authority to crack down on armed Palestinian groups.

Mr. Arafat instead proposed that the supreme command of the security forces should go to Nasser Yousef, a strong supporter of Mr. Arafat. Observers said that such a move would effectively sideline Mr. Dahlan.

Israel and the United States have been putting pressure on Mr. Abbas and Mr. Arafat to consolidate the fractured Palestinian security forces now under the command of Mr. Dahlan.

But some Palestinian officials say that Mr. Yousef is seen as too close to Mr. Arafat and his appointment would not result in any real reform within the Palestinian Authority.

Mr. Arafat reluctantly appointed Mr. Abbas his new Prime Minister following intense international pressure to share power and prepare the way for a new Palestinian leadership. After his appointment, Mr. Abbas selected Mr. Dahlan to take responsibility for law and order.

But Palestinian officials say that Mr. Dahlan has been unable to carry out his duties because Mr. Arafat is still controlling most of the security forces.

Meanwhile, the Abbas cabinet is trying to convince Palestinian armed groups to commit themselves to a new truce. They had abandoned the ceasefire announced in June, following the assassination of Hamas leader Ismael Abu Shanab by Israeli forces.

His killing was in retaliation for the Hamas suicide bombing of a bus in Jerusalem that killed at least 20 people.