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Arafat Says His Government Is Strong - 2004-07-25


Palestinian President Yasser Arafat insists his administration remains strong and stable. The Palestinian leader has made his first pubic comments on the political crisis surrounding his government.

Observers are skeptical about Mr. Arafat's statement that he is not facing a power struggle from within the Palestinian leadership.

Emerging from a meeting with Arab diplomats Saturday at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Mr. Arafat denied there is any crisis.

His first public comments on the unfolding situation stood in sharp contrast to events on the ground, with violent protests in Gaza against his administration entering their second week. The demonstrators say they want Mr. Arafat to reform the security forces and rid them of corruption.

The executive director of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, Bassam Eid, says Mr. Arafat has himself to blame for the latest chain of events.

He says Mr. Arafat's failure to reform the Palestinian Authority is directly responsible for the political unrest, and predicts it will widen from Gaza to other Palestinian areas.

"I think the situation right now proves how much the Palestinian people get fed-up and so frustrated with Mr. Arafat himself," he said. "I think [this revolt against Mr. Arafat] is going to spread to the West Bank, and it should have to spread to the West Bank."

An Israeli expert on Palestinian affairs, Professor Menachem Klein, of Tel Aviv's Bar-Ilan University, says the violent protests show that Mr. Arafat has fallen out of favor, even with members of his own political faction, known as Fatah.

"This is a popular revolt, inside Fatah, against the corruption and against Arafat," he said. "It is a popular resistance inside Fatah, against a leader who is getting old, and his decisions are not respected anywhere by the Palestinian people."

Despite these perceptions, Mr. Arafat says he intends to stand firm against those who oppose him. He says he has a good working relationship with his prime minister, Ahmed Qureia, and has urged him to stay on in his job.

Mr. Arafat also says he has authorized Mr. Qureia to change the make-up of his cabinet. But he has refused to yield to Mr. Qureia's demands to hand power over the security forces to the prime minister.

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