Two Palestinian cabinet ministers have resigned their posts, including the justice minister who cited what he called ongoing chaos in the Gaza Strip. News of the resignations came as the Palestinian leadership is under pressure to end corruption and reform the security apparatus.
Justice Minister Nahed Al-Reyes says he offered his resignation last Wednesday but has yet to receive confirmation from Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia.
The Reuters news agency quotes him as saying his decision to leave the government was prompted by what he called the ongoing chaos and unrest, adding that the situation is deteriorating by the day. He is also reported to be frustrated because he has not been given sufficient authority to do his job.
Several months ago, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat appointed a judicial council headed by his most loyal associates who have effectively taken control of the ministry - creating a situation where the judiciary is seen as beholden to Mr. Arafat with little or no independence.
Reports said Planning Minister Nabil Qasis had also resigned to take a position as president of the West Bank's Bir Zeit University.
International pressure has been mounting on the Palestinian Authority to clean up what many view as a corrupt and inept government. Palestinian dissidents took to the streets to protest the situation and several groups carried out a spate of kidnappings of Palestinian officials, including the Gaza police chief. Several foreign aid workers were also abducted. All were later released after President Arafat agreed to hand over control of the police to his prime minister, Ahmed Qureia.
Mr. Qureia himself offered his resignation last month but later agreed to stay on in the post after President Arafat refused to accept it.
Meanwhile, on Friday, Israel announced it had agreed to allow some Palestinian policemen to carry weapons for the first time in two years, although each officer will first be subject to vetting by the Shin Bet security service.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz warned, however, that the decision to allow the police to carry weapons was not irreversible. The plan to allow Palestinian security forces to rearm drew criticism from opponents of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Israeli officials say the Palestinian security forces should be given the opportunity to fulfill their responsibilities to combat terrorism.