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Palestinian Authority Threatened by Violent Infighting


25 July: At 8:30 am (local time),
Wednesday morning,Radio
Palestine suddenly interrupted its
regular broadcasts for a solemn

All the forces (guilty of)
assailing national unity at this
moment of fateful struggle should
understand the fearful
responsibility they bear in
determining the destiny of the Palestinian people.â??
Picture: Outside Mussa Arafatâ??s home in Gaza
This announcement brought to an overt climax the conflict raging
in the last fortnight inside the Palestinian Authority between the
veteran ex-Tunis based leadership led by Yasser Arafat and the
field activists.

DEBKAfile â??s Palestinian sources emphasize that this conflict
is not the result of Arafatâ??s presumed efforts, as reported by
most Israeli media, to hold down the combative Hamas, Jhad Islmi
and the Popular Front, in order to establish seven quiet days and
move forward to the next stages of the Mitchell
recommendations. The diplomatic initiative conducted by Foreign
minister Shimon Peres and various European diplomats to prove
Arafatâ??s efforts in this regard are totally irrelevant, because the
violent confrontations now tearing through the Palestinian camp
have nothing to do with differences over political or even military
What is happening is the first open uprising by the forces of the
intifada against Arafatâ??s regime.

Starting in Nablus a fortnight ago, elements of the Fatah, Tanzim,
Hamas, Jihad Islami, Hizballah and the Popular Front, rose up
against Arafat and his veteran cronies.

Last week, Arafat, with the help of West Bank General
Intelligence commander Tewfiq Tirawi and the head of Military
Intelligence, Mussa Arafat, was able to subdue the Nablus
insurrection. He then went off to Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the
Gulf Emirates, to try yet again to open purse strings and release
the funds promised him at the Amman Arab summit earlier this

He had no notion – any more than did US and Israeli intelligence
experts – that the flames from Nablus would spread in a trice to
the Gaza Strip. None of them appreciated the force and depth of the
Palestinian streetâ??s alienation from Arafat and his regime.

It flared Sunday night, July 22, according to DEBKAfileâ??s
Palestinian and Gulf sources, at a roadblock that Mussa Arafat set
up on the western approach to Beit Lehiyeh to detain a mortar crew
on its way back from a shooting attack against Israel targets. The
crew was a mixed one, as are most Palestinian teams of late, this
one composed of Fatah, Hamas and Jihad Islami militants. Mussa
Arafat had been told to arrest the crew â?? not for the act of firing
the mortars against Israeli targets, but because did so without
authorization from Saher Habash, Yasser Arafatâ??s terror master
for the Intifada Popular Commands.
The crew was therefore guilty of insubordination to the
Chairmanâ??s authority.

But the men in the field were not cowed. Monday night, July 23,
hundreds of angry members of the popular committees from all
the Palestinian organizations in the field mobbed Mussa
Arafatâ??s house in Gaza. They did not merely shake fists and heap
abuse on this nephew of the Palestinian leader; they also fired
threatening shots – in the air this time.

Tuesday, July 24, Habash put in an early morning call to Yasser
Arafat in Abu Dhabi and told him to return home at once, warning
him that a popular revolt was developing. From intelligence
reports, he understood that local team commanders from all the
Palestinian movements, including Arafatâ??s own Fatah, were
planning to call an emergency meeting to approve the resumption
of mortar fire against Israeli targets.
The use of mortars was chosen as the most convenient vehicle to
enable the local commanders to escape their operational
subordination to Arafat and start acting independently.

Those commanders, many of them Fatah members, believe that
Arafat erred when he halted the mortar fire in deference to US,
Israel, and European pressure. They think that their disobedience to
the Chairmanâ??s orders will be the best way to prove to the
Palestinian street for the first time since the intifiada erupted ten
months ago that Arafat is not the absolute ruler of the Palestinian
Authority and that others have a say in dictating events.

Saher Habash warned his boss that if this movement is allowed to
gather steam, it would become a full-blown armed revolt and
threaten his regime.

Arafat was back in Gaza the same day.

Wednesday morning, he ordered Radio Palestine to issue its
dramatic warning.

Israeli and US intelligence forces who have propped up Yasser
Arafat and his Authority for so many years pitched in this time
too. Out of the blue, Israeli electronic and print media
â??discoveredâ?? that the West Bank Preventive Security chief,
Jibril Rajoub, was a major gunrunner, smuggling into the West
Bank mortars and shells. Tawfiq Tirawi was described as leading
the fight against this illegal traffic.
In this theater of the absurd, the West Bank strongman Rajoub,
hitherto regarded as a benign force in the Palestinian camp, was
suddenly depicted as the source of evil, while Tirawi, who is
personally responsible for the cruelest acts of terrorism on the
West Bank, was morphed into a model upholder of law and order.

DEBKAfile â??s political analysts note that Jibrilâ??s arms
importing trade is an old story to which a blind eye was turned in
appreciation of a Palestinian leader considered most trustworthy
by Israel and the Americans. However, in the interests of
sanitizing Tirawi , so as to encourage him to throw all his support
behind Arafat in his hour of peril, Jibril was thrown to the dogs.

DEBKAfile â??s political analysts doubt strongly that the tactics
leading to this gambit originated in the top policy-making levels
in either Washington or Israel. They may not even be aware yet of
the full implications of the Palestinian upheaval. But when they
are fully apprised, they may very well reverse the political,
intelligence and military actions taken by their agents on the spot.

Much depends on Arafatâ??s success in keeping the lid on the
simmering Palestinian pot. He may have banked down the
outbreaks against his rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but he
has yet to come to grips with the first real breach driven by the
intifada in the Palestinian field command.

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