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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 12 March, 2003, 14:37 GMT
Hamas criticises PM post
Yasser Arafat
Yasser Arafat has agreed to loosen his grip on power
The militant Palestinian group, Hamas, has criticised the decision taken by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to create the post of prime minister.

In a statement, Hamas said Mr Arafat's decision had been a response to what it called "US-Zionist pressures".

It described the creation of the post of prime minister as a US plot to end the Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation.

The criticism came as Mr Arafat held talks with officials from his Fatah Party to discuss the expected appointment of his deputy, Mahmoud Abbas, as the first prime minister.

The Palestinian parliament on Monday voted overwhelmingly in favour of creating the new post, a key demand of international mediators pressing for reform of the Palestinian Authority. Aides said Mr Arafat was expected to sign the bill later this week.

Power-sharing

Mr Abbas has said he will decide on whether he wants the job once parliament decides what powers he will have.

However, Mr Arafat and Mr Abbas - also known as Abu Mazen - are reported to have agreed on the division of power.

It is thought Mr Arafat will remain in control of two key issues - security and peace talks with Israel.

The new prime minister will deal mainly with internal affairs - including naming and supervising cabinet ministers.

Mr Arafat appears to be able to appoint and dismiss the premier.

It remains to be seen whether the new post will satisfy Israel and the US, who have accused Mr Arafat of being an obstacle to ending 29 months of violence.

In the latest violence, an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian were killed in a gun battle near the West Bank town of Tulkarm.

Two Palestinians and one Israeli soldier were also wounded in the exchange of fire, which took place during an Israeli security sweep in the village of Saida.

Israeli officials said 15 Palestinians were detained across the West Bank.

Six of those arrested were from the town of Hebron, where the Israeli army has increased its presence following an ambush on Monday, in which an Israeli soldier was killed.




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