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Arabs demonstrate after Israeli attack


GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Thousands of Palestinians marched in the streets yesterday in angry mourning for nine people killed before dawn in Israel's infantry raid, its deepest incursion into this sprawling city during the two-year conflict.

Israeli tanks backed by helicopters stormed two Gaza City neighborhoods, demolishing what the army called a weapons factory as well as the family home of a suicide bomber who injured 23 people in Tel Aviv in June.

Hospital officials said six of the nine killed, including two pairs of brothers, were civilians. The Israeli army said its forces had been returning fire.

Palestinians said they were unifying around their besieged leader, Yasser Arafat, but further signs emerged of the growing turbulence in the complex politics of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Muhammad Dahlan, the former security chief in Gaza and now senior adviser to Arafat, described a "deep dialogue" within Arafat's Fatah faction and his governing Palestinian Authority over democratic change, and over whether to modify or abandon violent tactics.

The debate has been muted if not silenced by the renewed Israeli siege of Arafat, Dahlan said, blaming the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon.

"Sharon came and destroyed everything, because he's looking for a corrupt Authority and a continuation of the violence," he said.

Israel, which surrounded Arafat's compound in Ramallah last week after a suicide bomber killed six people in Tel Aviv, says it is seeking 19 men holed up with Arafat.

As evidence of the disparity of opinion on reform among Palestinians, masked gunmen fired from a car yesterday at the Ramallah home of Nabil Amr, a Palestinian Legislative Council member who resigned as a minister in Arafat's Cabinet in April and has been pushing for democratic change. No one was hurt.

On Monday, the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the militant wing of Fatah, attacked Amr in a statement, saying he was kowtowing to U.S. and Israeli demands by seeking to create a prime minister's position in the Palestinian Authority - one that would assume Arafat's executive powers.

The statement also attacked Mahmoud Abbas, who is known as Abu Mazen, on the same ground.

In a telephone interview on Monday, Amr said he was on his way to a meeting with Abbas and other Fatah leaders, one of several held in recent days. He said that the subject of a prime minister had not come up at previous meetings. With Arafat again under siege, he said, it is "not the right time to speak about it."

The turmoil within Palestinian politics has been increasing for months. On May 13, Hassan Asfour, a Palestinian legislator from Gaza and the minister of nongovernmental affairs, was beaten by five masked men outside his home in Ramallah. The attack was seen as a warning to Asfour, and particularly to Dahlan, not to try to extend their influence into the West Bank. Both men, who had been spending much if not most of their time in Ramallah, returned to Gaza City.

Asfour said yesterday of the notion of Abbas as prime minister: "This idea is not on the table." The issue of reform, he said, has been tainted by U.S. and Israeli opportunism.

"The Americans never called for reform except when they decided to fight Arafat," he said.

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