| Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie in Ramallah (Reuters)
Ramallah (West Bank), July 17 (Reuters): Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie submitted his resignation to President Yasser Arafat today after complaining of chaos in Gaza following kidnappings by gunmen seeking anti-corruption reforms.
Arafat ordered a security shake-up in the territory and refused to accept Qurie’s resignation, officials said.
In remarks afterwards to reporters, Qurie appeared to signal his decision to quit was not final. Cabinet member Azzam al-Ahmad said “there would be a new position” if Arafat’s moves proved satisfactory.
“I met the President twice today and the cabinet discussed the situation ... There will be another meeting on Monday to see where we stand,” Qurie said.
A sense of growing anarchy gripped the Gaza Strip, where kidnappers demanding an end to corruption in the security services briefly held four French aid workers and two local officials, including the area’s police chief, yesterday.
All were released unharmed.
But the abductions reflected a growing challenge to Arafat from militants trying to strengthen their position before Israel carries out a planned withdrawal of troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip by the end of 2005.
Arafat, in apparent response to the gunmen’s demands, fired the police commander, Ghazi al-Jabali, appointed a cousin, Major General Mussa Arafat, as overall security chief for Gaza, and said its 12 security services would be combined into three.
Facing criticism at home and abroad over his failure to clean up and streamline security forces and other institutions after nearly four years of Israeli-Palestinian violence, Arafat has made similar unification pledges but taken no action.
UN West Asia envoy Terje Roed-Larsen, citing “the mounting power of arms, money and intimidation”, told the UN on Tuesday that clashes and showdowns between branches of the security forces are now common in the Gaza Strip.
Speaking to reporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, before news of his resignation, Qurie said Gaza — where the Palestinian Authority declared a state of emergency — was in “an unprecedented state of chaos”.
Some Palestinians worry lawlessness may only intensify as militant groups and security services jockey for position to fill the vacuum after any evacuation of Jewish settlements.
Israeli justice minister Yosef Lapid called Qurie’s decision to quit “only a symptom of the disastrous situation caused by Arafat”. Israel refuses to negotiate with Arafat, saying he foments bloodshed — an allegation he denies.
“If (Arafat) wasn’t around, we could talk to (Qurie) and reach some arrangement that could be accepted by both the Palestinians and the Israelis,” Lapid said. Qurie, also known as Abu Ala, took office in November. He was seen at the time as more likely to bend to Arafat’s wishes than his predecessor Mahmoud Abbas, who quit after losing a power struggle with the President.