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Last Update: 25/07/2004 07:28
Gaza youth shot dead; Arafat says PA not in crisis
By Haaretz Service and agencies

A 16-year-old Palestinian was shot dead while standing at the window of his home on Saturday in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanun, local paramedics said early Sunday.

The Israel Defense Forces said Palestinian gunmen were shooting in the same area at the time, but the troops who were their target did not return fire due to the difficulty of identifying as target in the darkness.

Palestinians said the youth was killed in an exchange of fire.

On Saturday, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat expressed confidence in his prime minister Saturday, as unrest in the Gaza Strip went into a second week, shaking the Palestinian government and Arafat's regime.

In his first public comments since the upheavals in Gaza spilled over into a political confrontation with Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia last week, Arafat denied the government was in a crisis, and said he had approved changes in the Cabinet.

"No, no, there is no crisis," Arafat said after meeting Arab diplomats in his headquarters.

"There is no problem over the interior minister. There is a proposal by the Palestinian Legislative Council to carry out some changes within the Cabinet, and we gave our approval for such changes," the Palestinian leader said.

Arafat played down the standoff with Qureia, who submitted his resignation a week ago. Although Arafat rejected the resignation letter, Qureia has said he is firm in his determination to quit unless his Cabinet is given effective power over the security forces.

"The prime minister has the full right to propose anything he wants, and whatever is suitable for him. I will support whatever he decides. I highly and fully trust him," Arafat said, briefly answering questions from reporters.

Arafat told legislators earlier this week that the interior minister would have more control over the security forces, but no practical steps have yet been taken to give more authority to the minister or the Cabinet.

His pledge to empower the government came after the Legislative Council passed a resolution calling on him to appoint a new Cabinet with control over the security forces in Gaza, where demonstrators and kidnappers had created a state of chaos.

A 16-year-old Palestinian was shot dead while standing at the window of his home on Saturday in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanun, local paramedics said.

The Israel Defense Forces said Palestinian gunmen were shooting in the same area at the time, but the troops who were their target did not return fire due to the difficulty of identifying as target in the darkness.

Earlier on Saturday, masked militants set fire and destroyed a Palestinian police station south of Gaza City on Saturday, in an apparent protest against Arafat's lack of reform of the security services.

Witnesses to the fire and local security officials said the unidentified militants stormed the police station in the town of Zwaida, about seven kilometers south of Gaza City, smashed furniture, then set the building alight.

No one was injured, but damage was caused to a town council building nearby. The building was sparsely occupied since the raid happened before normal working hours. No group immediately claimed responsibility.

Also on Saturday, in Khan Yunis, in the southern sector of Gaza, about 20 militants of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades took over the building of the local administration.

Witnesses said militants from Arafat's Fatah faction commandeered a government building in the Gaza Strip and demanded the Palestinian leader fire a nephew recently appointed as security chief.

A spokesman for the barricaded militants, Abu Moussa said, "We ask Arafat to fire this man, Musa Arafat, and all the symbols of corruption in the state."

They left peacefully after saying Arafat had agreed to reinstate comrades dismissed from the national security forces.

The militants caused no casualties but the witnesses said they had dealt a fresh blow to an Arafat-led Palestinian Authority beset by cronyism charges.

By noon, the leader of the barricaded gunmen said they had decided to quit the building after receiving assurances that 11 fellow Al-Aqsa men who had been dismissed from jobs with the security forces by Musa Arafat would be reinstated.

A Palestinian Authority official confirmed the 11 men were employed by the security services, but denied that they had ever been dismissed or moonlighted as Al-Aqsa militants.

"This has all been a misunderstanding," said Major-General Faisal Abu Sharaikh, head of Arafat's bodyguard Force-17.

Arafat appointed his nephew, Musa, to a senior security post last weekend, sparking armed standoffs with hundreds of Fatah members who took to Gaza's streets in protest.

Arafat had shuffled security chiefs on Monday, but did not dismiss his nephew outright. He has also scrambled to head off a resignation threat by Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, who has demanded long-awaited reform of security forces.

PA teen killed by Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades
An Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades cell killed a 16-year-old Palestinian boy in Beit Hanun on Friday after a row in which his family opposed the cell's attempt to launch Qassam rockets from their yard, Israeli security sources said.

According to a report obtained from Palestinian sources, the cell, comprised of six men, arrived in a van at the Za'anun family's Beit Hanun home on Friday morning. The militants then placed a Qassam rocket launcher adjacent to the family home, and one of the cell members opened fire on an armored Israel Defense Forces vehicle nearby.

Members of the Za'anun family came out of their house holding sticks and rocks, and tried to drive the Al-Aqsa militants from their yard, most likely fearing that their house would be demolished if Qassam rockets were launched from it.

During the clash, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades members opened fire, killing Hassan Za'anun and wounding three other family members.

The cell left the area following the incident, without firing the Qassam rockets.

Earlier Friday, an IDF soldier sustained moderate injuries after gunmen opened fire at an IDF post near the West Bank settlement of Shavei Shomron.

The solider was evacuated to Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva.

According to an initial investigation, an armed Palestinian planned to infiltrate Shavei Shomron to carry out an attack. As he approached the settlement's security fence, the Palestinian man noticed the army patrol and opened fire, hitting the soldier. The soldiers returned fire, but the gunman managed to escape.

Also Friday, IDF troops in the Egoz unit arrested a senior Tanzim militant Mahmoud Abu Hussa in the village of Yata, near the West Bank city of Hebron. Abu Hussa killed five Israelis in a number of shooting attacks.

The soldiers surrounded Abu Hussa's house and called on him to surrender. Abu Hussa refused to leave the house, and shot at the troops. The soldiers returned fire, and fired an anti-tank missile at the house. After some time, Hussa surrendered to the troops.

Earlier Friday, a mortar shell was fired at the Gaza Strip settlement of Netzarim. No injuries were reported, although a private residence was damaged.
A masked Palestinian militant standing on the balcony of the Khan Yunis Governorate bullding in the Gaza Strip on Saturday. (AP)
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