Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Sunday, July 07, 2002

Former Palestinian Security Chief's Supporters Challenge Arafat

About 750 Palestinian preventive security members demonstrated in the West Bank town of Lamallah Saturday in support of their dismissed leader Jibril Rajoub.


About 750 Palestinian preventive security members demonstrated in the West Bank town of Lamallah Saturday in support of their dismissed leader Jibril Rajoub.

The demonstrators said they refused to accept dealing with new chief Zuhair Al Manasra, who was assigned by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to replace Rajoub.

Police chief Ghazi Al Jabali and chief of the civil defense forces in the Gaza Strip were also replaced in the major security shakeup.

The demonstrators waved Palestinian flags and carried banners with slogans such as "reforms must be against corrupted people and not against freedom fighters."

Issa Abu Azzam, one of the preventive security officers working under Rajoub, told reporters that his fellows would reject any cooperation with the new security chief.

"We would refuse to deal with anybody who comes from outside thepreventive security to become our chief," said Azzam.

"We are not willing to deal with Al Manasra," he added.

Some of preventive security officials from other Palestinian self-rule areas were planning to meet with Arafat in Ramallah, but they were unable to reach the city because of the prevention by theIsraeli army.

Majed Faraj, chief of the preventive security in Hebron, said the current closures and sieges imposed by the Israeli army on mostof the West Bank made him and his men unable to reach Ramallah and meet with Arafat.

"There are conspiracies plotted against our security apparatus,"said Faraj, adding they would explain to Arafat that all Fatah movement members protest the way Rajoub was sacked.

The preventive security, which was established after 1994, has about 9000 members, with 4000 serving in the West Bank and 5000 others in the Gaza Strip.

The body was active before Intifada (uprising) broke out in lateSeptember 2000, and was well known for foiling suicide bombing attacks against Israel.

However, the preventive security was severely hit by Israeli army in April when Israeli helicopters and tanks bombarded the headquarters of the preventive security in the West Bank town of Betonya in search of wanted militants.

Palestinian analysts say the demonstrations might be escalated in the coming days.

They also fear such protests might turn into divisions and rebellion in Arafat's Palestinian National Authority.

But Palestinian officials say such dimensions are impossible.

"I don't think our protest would turn into a rebellion. We stillconsider Arafat as our leader and our symbol. We protest because wedon't want someone from outside the preventive security to be in charge," Azzam said.

He and his colleagues were intending to deliver to Arafat a letter saying the preventive security employees would reject any mediator between them and Arafat and they want Arafat to bring Rajoub back to his position.

A Palestinian official at Arafat's office, who asked not to be identified, said that the demonstration is natural and healthy and it is a democratic phenomenon.

The official expects Arafat not to change his decree or decisionto dismiss Rajoub and Jabali.

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