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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 May, 2003, 18:47 GMT 19:47 UK
Palestinian PM's balancing act

By Jeremy Cooke
BBC Middle East Correspondent

There is chaos, confusion and bloodshed after the suicide bomb attack in northern Israel.

This country, which has long dealt with realities of terror, is now facing a major upsurge in violence.

Palestinian PM Abu Mazen
Abu Mazen is between a rock and a hard place
The Palestinian extremists are trying to kill off any chances for the roadmap - as the international plan for peace is known.

And they are succeeding.

The Israelis say Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen is failing to deliver on his promise to crack-down on militants groups, such as Hamas or Islamic Jihad.

Thousands of Palestinians are prepared to turn out on the streets of Gaza City and wave the green flags of Hamas.

The awkward fact here is that the Islamic militants are hugely popular.

If Abu Mazen is to deliver on his promise to disarm them, the job will fall to security minister Mohammed Dahlan.

But one of Hamas's leaders, Mahmoud Al-Zahar, warns that if his men are attacked, Mr Dahlan's forces will face serious resistance.

Tough job

In an anonymous back garden in the West Bank city of Jenin, I found the men of al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades - an offshoot of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement - cleaning and oiling their assault rifles and machine guns.

These men are loyal to the Palestinian leadership.

Scene of Sunday's bus bombing in northern Jerusalem
Suicide attacks are continuing relentlessly
But under the roadmap they are supposed to disarm, along with the likes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Their leader told me this is not going to happen.

"We will only hand in our weapons when we don't need them any more" he said.

"When we have a Palestinian state, then it will be time to collect all of the weapons.

"But without a Palestinian state Israel will not know peace or security."

Clearly Abu Mazen faces big problems.

Even if the Palestinian Security forces have the military might to take on the extremists, the Palestinian people are unlikely to accept such a move.

Especially with the Israeli military imposing a total closure across Palestinian areas.

Palestinian spokesman Michael Tarazi says what is needed is for Israel to break the deadlock by accepting the roadmap.

This would give Abu Mazen the authority to crack down on Hamas and Islamic Jihad, he says.

Arafat pulling the strings

The Israelis, of course, are still insisting that without an end to the terror attacks, they will offer the Palestinians precisely nothing.

At the same time, Ariel Sharon says he wants to encourage the new Palestinian prime minister.

Mr Sharon's senior advisor Dore Gold makes it clear that even with Abu Mazen at the head of the Palestinian cabinet, the Israelis still suspect it is Yasser Arafat who is pulling the strings.

Abu Mazen has only been in the job for a few weeks, but already he is facing a crisis.

The Israelis, the Americans and the international community are insisting he must put the suicide bombers out of business.

But if he moves too soon, his position and political future would be under serious threat.


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