Fatah committed to Aksa Martyrs


20 June 2004

Originally published in the Jerusalem Post.

The Palestinian Authority has no plans to dismantle the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, the armed wing of Fatah, Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei announced on Sunday. He acknowledged that the group is part of Fatah and said its gunmen are entitled to play a political role in the future.

"We have clearly declared that the Aksa Martyrs Brigades are part of Fatah," Qurei said in an interview with the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper. "We are committed to them and Fatah bears full responsibility for the group."

Qurei said his top priority now is to safeguard the security of the Fatah gunmen who are wanted by Israel. He said they would be integrated into Fatah's institutions and would be paid salaries.

"We are working toward ensuring three issues for them on the basis of their adherence to the PLO's political program," Qurei said. "First, they have the right to play a political role within the framework of Fatah, and this is guaranteed for each member. Second, we are seeking to ensure their personal safety, because they are on the run and are wanted and threatened. We will achieve this with the help of the Quartet and the international community. Third, we will guarantee their living conditions economically and socially.

The Aksa Martyrs Brigades will not be dismantled."
Qurei said the Palestinians would continue to fight against Israel for as long as the occupation exists. But, he went on, "the resistance is not only an armed struggle."

"As long as there is an occupation, there will be resistance, but the resistance should take different forms in accordance with the circumstances and nature of the phase," he said.

"If there is a political horizon, then the form of resistance should certainly change. We need a resistance that will bring about results, because we are no longer capable of paying the price."

Qurei denied that he and PA Chairman Yasser Arafat were at loggerheads over who would control the security forces. "I don't agree to discus the issue of authorities with Abu Amar [Arafat], and I don't have any quarrel with him on this subject," he said.

In response to a question about Egyptian pressure on Arafat to reduce the number of PA forces from 12 to three and to appoint an interior minister in charge of these services, Qurei said: "Egypt's role is important and we strongly welcome it. We will rehabilitate and reorganize the security cadres and this will take place in the Gaza Strip and not in El-Arish."

Qurei said he did not know who would head the reformed security forces, but hinted that Arafat would remain in charge. "There is nothing called 'prime minister and interior minister,'" he said. "There is a Palestinian establishment called the Palestinian Authority and it is headed by President Yasser Arafat."

In response to a question about Egypt's demand that Arafat be stripped of all his powers and turned into a symbolic figurehead like South Africa's Nelson Mandela, he said: "Mandela was not a ceremonial leader. He led the struggle in South Africa until it achieved independence and then became president. And Arafat is leading our struggle until a Palestinian state is declared. The bottom line is that Mandela is Mandela and Arafat is Arafat."

Qurei held talks in Cairo last week with President Hosni Mubarak and senior government officials to discuss Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan. The Egyptians told Qurei they are seeking assurances from Israel that it would halt its military operations in the Gaza Strip as a precondition for sending Egyptian security advisers to the area.

The talks also dealt with Egypt's efforts to persuade the various Palestinian factions to reach an agreement on a joint strategy ahead of the planned withdrawal.

Qurei has decided to step up his efforts to reach an agreement with Hamas and Islamic Jihad and has appointed former PA minister of communications Imad Falouji as his coordinator with them.