Militants burn building in protest aimed at Arafat
Palestinian leader accused of perpetuating corruption
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades burned down offices of the Palestinian intelligence services Sunday in southern Gaza, protesting a security shake-up announced by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
The Palestinian Authority president announced a major restructuring of security services Saturday.
The changes included consolidating more than 12 security agencies into three main units and replacing two top security officials. One was replaced with Arafat's cousin, Musa Arafat.
Within hours of Saturday's announcement, leaders of Arafat's Fatah movement in southern Gaza resigned and about 2,000 demonstrators took to the streets, many of them armed, accusing Arafat of replacing "corruption with more corruption."
Al Aqsa, a militant wing of Fatah, released a statement Sunday saying it burned down the Palestinian Authority building in Khan Yunis.
Al Aqsa members fired on guards outside the building, who then fled. The attackers also released people being held inside the building and stole weapons. Video from the scene showed cars around the building burning.
The statement said Al Aqsa would not be responsible for anything further that happened as a result of the shake-up -- a thinly veiled threat of continued violence.
Al Aqsa is a militant Palestinian nationalist group that has attacked military and civilian targets in Israel, and in Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel and the United States consider it a terrorist organization.
Later Sunday, armed men protesting Arafat's security moves exchanged gunfire with members of the Palestinian security service outside the intelligence headquarters in Rafah, Gaza.
The incidents came amid a state of emergency in Gaza and upheaval in the Palestinian Authority.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei announced his resignation Saturday, citing failures to address lawlessness, poverty and peace with Israel. (Full story)
Arafat rejected the resignation. Qorei's Cabinet, in an emergency session, also called on him to stay.
Qorei met with Arafat for four hours Sunday morning. Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat said Arafat again refused to accept the resignation.
But Erakat said that if Qorei submits it again at a Cabinet meeting Monday, Arafat will likely have no choice but to accept it.
Jordan's King Abdullah II told CNN that Qorei's resignation would only weaken Palestinian institutions "at a time when we really need to be able to move on security."
Qorei was named prime minister in September 2003 when the first man to hold that post, Mahmoud Abbas, resigned amid a dispute with Arafat over control of Palestinian security forces. If Qorei quits, "then we're running out of candidates," Abdullah said.
"This will be a serious blow to all of us that are trying to push the process forward, and I think will reflect very negatively on President Arafat himself," the king said on CNN's "Late Edition."
Qorei's resignation followed three separate abductions Friday that emphasized the lawlessness gripping Gaza.
Palestinian militants kidnapped two Palestinian leaders, four French aid workers and a Palestinian aid worker. All hostages were released after the captors' demands were met.
The Israeli government, in its weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday, discussed preparations for dealing with possible changes in the Palestinian Authority.
Masked militants of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades demonstrate against the new appointments Saturday in Gaza City.
Justice Minister Yosef Lapid said Qorei "is reaping the consequences of Arafat's misbehavior. Arafat is sowing corruption. Arafat is responsible for 12 different security organizations competing with each other. Arafat is responsible for the total disruption of political dialogue with Israel.
"And now the Palestinians are suffering because this is their leader."
U.N. Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen told the Security Council last week that the Palestinian Authority "is in deep distress and is in real danger of collapse," which "cannot be attributed only to the Israeli incursions and operations inside Palestinian towns."
Roed-Larsen specifically blamed Arafat for not carrying out promised reforms.