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Arafat backers score rebel claim

Backers of Palestinian chief Yasser Arafat challenged a claim that rebel guerrillas have won over officers representing 10,000 Palestinians. Sources in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) dismissed the man who made the claim, Musa Awad, as a little-known figure in Mr. Arafat's Al-Fatah movement.

At a news conference Wednesday in Baalbek, Lebanon, Mr. Musa said 24 more Fatah officers representing 10,000 Palestinians had swung behind the rebel drive to renounce the Arafat policy of seeking to achieve a Palestinian state through diplomacy rather than conflict with Israel. Pro-Arafat sources scoffed at the claim, saying the figure referred to civilians rather than fighters. Mr. Musa, also known as Abu Akram, described himself as Fatah's top civilian official in Lebanon.

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While playing down Musa's importance, the Palestinian sources conceded that the 31/2-week revolt was a worrisome challenge to Mr. Arafat's authority. Even Arafat's closest aide, Salah Khalaf, who usually goes by the name Abu Iyad, was quoted as having doubts about Arafat's leadership. The newspaper Al-Khaleej in the United Arab Emirates carried an interview with Mr. Iyad, reporting him as saying that Arafat's faults included ''non-attentiveness and neglect of collective leadership.''

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