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Too Early to Reconsider Resignation, says Mahmoud Abbas - 2003-09-07

Mahmoud Abbas says it is too early too reconsider his decision to resign as Palestinian prime minister. He was responding to speculation that he might be persuaded to stay on the job.

Mr. Abbas, who resigned on Saturday, told reporters on that it is premature to talk right now about a possible change of heart. He said his resignation is "final."

Mr. Abbas was responding to questions about the possibility that the Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, might re-nominate him for the post of prime minister, with the power to form a new government.

Arafat spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeinah said the Palestinian president intends to ask Mr. Abbas to continue serving as prime minister. If Mr. Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen, refuses, only then would he resort to a search for other candidates.

"So far, no decision has been taken," said Mr. Rudeinah. "Abu Mazen is still the acting prime minister. If he insists on keeping his resignation, there should be a new appointment that should be discussed right now and tomorrow. And we hope that within the next 48 hours we would reach the right conclusion."

The Palestinian Labor Minister, Ghassan Khatib, says steps will have to be taken to ensure political stability.

"We are in the day after, which is a new reality," stressed Minister Khatib. "I think that the scenario is very clear. We have to follow the stipulations of the constitution. The president has two weeks to find a new candidate to be a prime minister."

Mr. Abbas' decision to resign followed a power struggle with Mr. Arafat, who had refused to relinquish his control over the security forces.

Palestinian officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Mr. Arafat might be willing to push for Mr. Abbas's reinstatement, in return for some guarantees from the international community. One of his demands is for the right to travel freely again in and out of the West Bank.

Mr. Arafat has not left the territory since 2001, fearing that Israel would not allow him to return.

Several Israeli right-wing ministers are pushing for the government to send Mr. Arafat into exile, now that Mr. Abbas has resigned.

Dore Gold, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, says that Mr. Arafat should be held accountable for the downfall of Mr. Abbas. "The blame - in fact the entire blame - for the current crisis that has been created lies at the doorstep of Yasser Arafat, who refused to let Mahmoud Abbas to rule as a prime minister," said Mr. Gold.

But observers say it is unlikely that Israel would dare to banish Mr. Arafat from the area, without at least the tacit support for such a move from the U.S. administration.