Militants burn down Palestinian police station; Arafat denies c

Sunday, July 25, 2004

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Militants raided a Palestinian police station and a local government office on Saturday, as unrest in the Gaza Strip stretched into a second week despite efforts by Yasser Arafat to defuse mounting discontent with his leadership.

Arafat, in his first public appearance since the outbreak of demonstrations against his regime, denied he is facing a crisis and renewed his pledge to give more authority to his prime minister.

But the continuing violence in Gaza signaled skepticism over Arafat's promises of reform, and there was no indication that his standoff with Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and the Palestinian Cabinet was easing.

"No, no, there is no crisis," said Arafat, facing a bank of microphones after meeting Arab diplomats in his headquarters.

"There is no problem over the interior minister. There is a proposal by the Palestinian Legislative Council to carry out some changes within the Cabinet, and we gave our approval for such changes," the Palestinian leader said.

In Gaza on Saturday, militants torched an empty Palestinian police station south of Gaza City before dawn in the town of Zwaida, four miles south of Gaza City, pouring gasoline on mattresses and blankets and setting the building on fire.

No one was injured, officials said, but police files, computers and communications equipment were destroyed. No group immediately claimed responsibility.

Hassam Abu Zaid, the local leader of Arafat's Fatah political movement, called the raid a "shameful act," and said, "we call on the president (Arafat) to make sure that law and order are being implemented, and that good leaders and good commanders are fulfilling their duties."

In Khan Younis, in the southern sector of Gaza, militants of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades took over the building of the local administration, demanding the reinstatement of 50 comrades fired from their security jobs, a member of the group said.

"We want to confirm our loyalty to Arafat, as the leader and commander of the Palestinian people," said the militant who identified himself only as Abu al-Haj. "We still call on the president to fire all the people involved in corruption," he said, before evacuating the building and ending the siege.

Al Aqsa Brigades is affiliated with Fatah, but its younger members have been angered by the monopolization of power in Gaza by Arafat's associates, most of whom are from an older generation raised in exile rather than under Israeli occupation.

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