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As Palestinian leaders argue, U.N. says 1,200 homeless

By Associated Press
Published October 14, 2003

JERUSALEM - Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat delivered yet another blow to his new prime minister Monday, appointing an acting security chief over Ahmed Qureia's opposition.

Qureia, in office about a week, already has threatened to resign several times because of disputes with Arafat. The latest threat came Sunday, when Qureia said he will not be part of the new government set to form in about three weeks.

Qureia's success or failure in office could decide the fate of stalled negotiations with Israel over a U.S.-backed peace plan intended to end three years of violence and create a Palestinian state by 2005.

Meanwhile, U.N. officials reported that more than 1,200 Palestinians were left homeless after an Israeli military operation in the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza. Israel was searching for weapons-smuggling tunnels and resumed the search today.

Also Monday, former Israeli peace negotiators and Palestinian officials agreed on an unofficial peace deal that the Israeli government immediately denounced.

The unofficial deal would give Palestinians a state in 98 percent of the West Bank and all of Gaza. They also would receive land in Israel's Negev Desert to compensate for the 2 percent kept in the West Bank by Israel.

Israeli leaders blasted the agreement as an end run that damaged the government's peace efforts.

The Palestinian government has been in disarray for several days because of an increasingly bitter dispute between Arafat and Qureia over the legitimacy of an emergency Cabinet and who would be the new interior minister, their top security official.

Arafat appointed longtime ally Nasser Yousef interior minister when he named an emergency government Oct. 5. But Yousef defied Arafat by refusing to participate in last week's inauguration ceremony, and Arafat withdrew his support.

Qureia continued supporting Yousef, saying dropping him now would embarrass the new government.

Regardless, Arafat on Monday appointed Hakam Balawi, a senior official from his ruling Fatah party, as acting security chief, the Associated Press reported, quoting an unnamed Palestinian official.

While Palestinian officials in Ramallah were arguing in recent days, 1,240 Palestinians in the Rafah refugee camp on the Gaza-Egypt border became homeless during the military raid, U.N. officials said. In the first operation, eight Palestinians, including two children, were killed by Israeli gunfire in fierce exchanges.

Before dawn today, dozens of Israeli tanks entered the refugee camp again.

Israeli military sources said it was a continuation of a mission that began Friday, aimed at clearing away tunnels used by Palestinians to smuggle weapons from Egypt. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

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