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Arafat denies 'crisis' amid unrest in Gaza

Armed men briefly seize government building in Khan Yunis

Masked Palestinians stand on the balconies of a government building they seized Saturday in Khan Yunis.
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Violent Demonstrations
Yasser Arafat

RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat denied Saturday that his government is in "crisis" -- despite such proclamations from other Palestinian and international leaders, and the chaos sweeping Gaza.

In his first public comments since an unprecedented uprising began last week -- in which thousands of Palestinians have protested alleged corruption in Arafat's leadership and Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei submitted his resignation -- Arafat insisted, "There is no crisis."

Last week, Arafat replaced the former intelligence chief of the West Bank and Gaza with his own cousin, Musa Arafat. That appointment set off rounds of protests from Palestinian militants, who said Arafat had replaced one corrupt official with another.

Although he has repeatedly rejected Qorei's resignation, Arafat said, "The prime minister has the full right to propose anything he wants to and whatever is suitable for him. I will support whatever he decides. I highly and fully trust him."

Arafat spoke to reporters after a meeting with Arab leaders at his compound in Ramallah.

Even as he spoke, Palestinians set fire to a police station in Zwaida, near Gaza City. Zwaida Mayor Ahmed Abu Zaid said, "This is an attempt by cowards to try and create chaos in Gaza."

Separately, about 300 armed men, including militants and members of the Palestinian security services, seized the governor's office Khan Yunis. About 1,000 unarmed supporters crowded around the building, the Khan Yunis security chief said.

Arafat's security office called the armed group and asked it to stand down and peacefully resolve the issue, but the call went unheeded, the Khan Yunis security chief said.

The men left after seven hours when they were assured by Arafat that none of the security forces would lose their jobs.

Some of the militants were with the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militant wing of Arafat's Fatah movement that has carried out terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians.

A member of the group who identified himself as Abu Zanbel said his group has a message for Arafat: "Musa Arafat is corrupt and he cannot stay in his position. We should be rewarded, not fired."

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called the situation "a serious crisis" and said Arafat should listen to fellow Palestinian leaders and regional leaders in establishing reforms.

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