Baltimore Sun

Arafat, asserting control, appoints new Palestinian security adviser

JERUSALEM - Asserting his control over Palestinian security forces in the West Bank, Yasser Arafat appointed a new national security adviser yesterday, while the militant group Hamas called for fresh attacks against Israel.

Both developments reflected the edgy, uncertain state of affairs in Israel and the occupied territories, which remained braced for a possible escalation in violence, and represented potential setbacks for the U.S.-backed peace effort.

The new Palestinian national security adviser, Jibril Rajoub, previously served as the chief of preventive security in the West Bank and developed strong ties with American and Israeli officials.

He fell out of favor with Arafat, the Palestinian leader, last year. Arafat, who is known for reshuffling his advisers to make sure he holds the strongest hand, appeared to be done with him.

By bringing Rajoub back, several Palestinian officials said, Arafat was perhaps gambling that Rajoub could again be a useful surrogate and help him maintain a stake in negotiations with the Israelis and the Americans, who have tried to push Arafat to the margins of any peace effort.

Arafat was also signaling his determination not to let the more than a dozen Palestinian security forces be combined under the control of the prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, and his security minister, Muhammad Dahlan.

Dahlan effectively holds sway over only three branches of the Palestinian security forces and wields considerable influence in the Gaza Strip but not the West Bank. Arafat retains control of other security forces.

Rajoub said yesterday that a national security council under Arafat's leadership would be formed and that he would help carry out security measures to stop new violence by Palestinian militant groups.

But that is what Abbas and Dahlan are supposed to be trying to do, and it was unclear how - or if - Arafat's actions would lend coherence to that mission.

In Washington, a State Department spokesman, Philip Reeker, told reporters: "Our view is that Prime Minister Abbas, as you know, needs to be given all available security elements, to have those elements under his control, so they can allow progress on the road map."

In another challenge to the peace effort, Palestinians at a funeral yesterday for Hamas members killed Sunday night in an Israeli airstrike vowed revenge against Israel.

"We want martyrs, more sacrifice," blared a voice amplified through loudspeakers as more than 1,000 Palestinians marched through Gaza City during the funeral procession.

That strike was part of Israel's response to a suicide bombing last week that killed 21 people aboard a bus in Jerusalem, and it followed a similar strike on Thursday, when the Israeli military killed an influential Hamas leader and two bodyguards.

Meanwhile, Israel returned the bodies of two Hezbollah guerrillas to Lebanon yesterday, signaling that a deal may be imminent for a wider exchange of prisoners, including an Israeli businessman kidnapped three years ago.

The bodies of Ammar Hussein Hammoud and Ghassan Mohammed Zaatar were handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which brought their flag-draped coffins to an agreed transfer point along the Israeli-Lebanese border yesterday afternoon.

The two men were among the last Hezbollah members to die in operations against Israeli troops before the Jewish state withdrew its troops from southern Lebanon in May 2000 after a 22-year occupation.