CIA director spends five hours discussing Palestinian security apparatus with Arafat

 

THE MIDDLE EAST: While CIA director Mr George Tenet questioned Mr Yasser Arafat on how he plans to reform his Palestinian Authority during a meeting in Ramallah yesterday, the Palestinian leader asked the US intelligence chief to put pressure on Israel to cease its West Bank incursions.

But Mr Tenet was said to be dissatisfied with Mr Arafat's plan for reforming the multiple arms of the Palestinian security apparatus. Mr Tenet, who has been saddled with the onerous task of helping to unify the PA security apparatus, reportedly said he wanted someone other than Mr Arafat at the head of a central command structure.

The CIA chief did not speak to reporters after emerging from a five-hour session in Mr Arafat's headquarters.

An aide to Mr Arafat told Palestine Radio the president had complained about the daily raids by the Israeli army and the tight blockades around some Palestinian cities.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Mr Ariel Sharon, has told Mr Tenet he did not believe reforms would be implemented as long as Mr Arafat was president.

But the Foreign Minister, Mr Shimon Peres, the leading dove in Mr Sharon's cabinet, said yesterday he hoped Mr Tenet would help the Palestinians to "build a structure which will contain a central authority over all the arms". But he did not think Mr Arafat would do it "willingly. I think circumstances will force him to do so."

Palestinian leaders have complained they cannot undertake a reform programme as long as Israel continues to undermine the Palestinian Authority by making daily raids into West Bank towns and villages. "We are serious about making reforms," said Palestinian Minister Ziad Abu Zayad yesterday. "The problem is that the situation on the ground, the (Israeli army)closures, the daily incursions into the Palestinian areas, make it possible for us to start these reforms."

While Mr Arafat is under intense international and domestic pressure to restructure his authority and render it more transparent, many observers believe he will try to make as few changes as possible to preserve his highly centralised rule. But they also suggest that behind Mr Sharon's call for Palestinian reform, is the Israeli leader's deep-seated desire to oust Mr Arafat.

President Bush, who is said to be considering a new Middle East initiative, and who meets President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt later this week to discuss the conflict, yesterday asked Mr Sharon to come to Washington for a meeting next Monday. The invitation, Mr Peres commented, was "natural," because the US wanted "to hear the Israeli view as well before they will conclude their own policy".

It remains to be seen whether the Bush administration, which has so far been reticent to intervene in the Middle East conflict, will reiterate its support for a Palestinian state - or outline a detailed diplomatic road map and energetically pursue it.

In the West Bank yesterday, Palestinian sources reported that a 16-year-old youth was shot dead by Israeli soldiers in clashes in the Hebron area. Palestinian security officials also discovered the bodies of two Palestinians near the casino in Jericho, but the circumstances of their death was not immediately clear.

Two Israelis were injured - one seriously - when the truck they were travelling in overturned south of Hebron after it was hit by a hail of stones.