Thousands demand revenge for car blast that killed Palestinian militia leader


Friday, July 5th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6



GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) _ Mourners fired assault rifles into the air and demanded revenge Friday after a car bomb killed a militia leader and a member of the security forces in what Palestinians say was the latest Israeli attack on prominent militants.

About 15,000 people marched in a funeral procession alongside the flag-draped bodies of Jihad Amerin, 48, the Gaza leader of al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a militia affiliated with Yasser Arafat's Fatah organization, and Nael Namera, 27, a security forces lieutenant.

``This is another crime against the leaders of the Palestinian people,'' said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, an adviser to Arafat.

Also on Friday, Arafat consulted with his security officers, trying to smooth a rift over his ouster of Jibril Rajoub from a key West Bank security position, and the arrest of 19 Palestinians by Israeli forces in the West Bank and Gaza who were ``suspected of terrorist activity.''

The Israeli army said three of the suspects were picked up in Jericho, the only one of the eight main Palestinian towns and cities in the West Bank not taken over by Israel in the past two weeks.

Arafat has been under Israeli and U.S. pressure to restructure his competing and overlapping security forces and direct them to stop terror attacks against Israel. Arafat appointed Jenin governor Zuheir al-Manasra to replace Rajoub and offered the Jenin municipal post to Rajoub.

Rajoub refused the job, and some preventive security officers were threatening not to work under the new commander, raising speculation the force _ the strongest security branch in the West Bank _ might be disbanded.

A senior Palestinian official said preventive security officers were meeting with Arafat to discuss the shake-up. Rajoub said he would not comment until the meetings were finished, which may not be until Saturday.

Rajoub has been mentioned as a possible Arafat successor and has had close ties with Israeli officials, who say he is one of the few leaders not linked directly to terror attacks. So far, however, he has pledged his loyalty to Arafat. He also lost face among many Palestinians and outraged Islamic extremists for surrendering his compound _ and Palestinian militants jailed inside _ to Israeli forces in April during their campaign to crush militias behind deadly attacks on Israel.

Arafat met Thursday at his Ramallah headquarters with Piero Fassino, head of the Italian opposition party, Democrats of the Left, and blamed foreign powers for funding extremists, singling out Yemen and Sudan as countries that sponsor terrorism.

``These fanatics have received funds and arms from fanatical Arab and Islamic countries, along with the order to go ahead with suicide attacks,'' Arafat said, according to a Palestinian official who made a transcript of the meeting and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Arafat, whom Israel accuses of direct links to suicide bombers and militias that target Israelis, said he ordered Palestinian banks to report to the Palestinian Authority the suspicious flow of money from abroad.

In the Gaza Strip, young men lifted AK-47 rifles into the air while children, wearing headbands saying al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, held up pictures of Amerin and Namera. Amerin had resigned from the Palestinian security forces about nine months ago, frustrated by Arafat's calls for an end to attacks on Israel. He then became the militia's leader in the Gaza Strip.

During 21 months of fighting, Israel has claimed responsibility for killing dozens of Palestinian extremists and militia leaders in helicopter raids, and is also blamed for bomb attacks that have killed others. It has acknowledged some and claimed some were ``work accidents'' involving Palestinian bombs that went off prematurely. The army refused to comment on the explosion.

In interviews published Friday the outgoing Israeli military commander, Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, said Arafat should be expelled from the Middle East.

Mofaz told the Yediot Ahronot daily that Arafat is directing Palestinian terror attacks and has no intention of making peace. ``As long as Arafat is here, we will not be able to reach an agreement,'' Mofaz said, ``and he will continue to promote terrorism.''

A poll in the Maariv daily showed that 58 percent of Israeli adults favor expulsion of Arafat, while 28 percent are opposed. The Market Watch survey questioned 590 Israelis and said the poll had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.