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Arafat Promises to Reform Palestinian Authority - 2004-08-18

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat has acknowledged that the Palestinian Authority has made "mistakes" and he promises to correct them.

In a speech to Palestinian lawmakers in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Mr. Arafat said some of his officials have made unacceptable mistakes and abused their power.

"There were wrong actions by some institutions, and some were irresponsible and misused their positions," he said, adding no one is "immune from mistakes, starting from me on down." But he did not name any other individuals nor did he provide any details of the nature of those mistakes and abuses.

The remarks were his bluntest since unrest erupted in the Gaza Strip in July. It was a rare admission by the Palestinian leader that he himself had made mistakes.

Mr. Arafat also acknowledged major failures in enforcing law and order in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and pledged to support efforts to improve the situation. He said "We need to move together to correct and reform all the mistakes." But he made no mention of specific actions to be taken.

Mr. Arafat has come under growing international criticism for failing to reform the Palestinian Authority, particularly its security services, which are seen as corrupt and ineffective. But perhaps the most serious criticisms he has faced have come from within the Palestinian community.

Despite the calls that he relinquish some control over institutions, in particular the Authority's security apparatus, he has maintained his tight grip. Mr. Arafat's appointment last month of one of his relatives to a senior security position in the Gaza Strip sparked violent protests and was followed by a wave of kidnappings. Mr. Arafat was forced to reverse the appointment.

During his address to the Palestinian legislature, Mr. Arafat also called for Palestinians to show solidarity with Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails by taking part in a day of fasting. About 1,500 of the estimated 7,000 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons began a hunger strike for improved conditions on Sunday.