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Palestinian security feud heats up

Responding to a suicide bombing, Israeli forces killed four Hamas members Monday in Gaza.

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After months of seemingly being in the background, Yasser Arafat has asserted his primacy in Palestinian politics at a critical moment in the Middle East conflict.

Following a Hamas bombing that killed 21 people in Jerusalem, US Secretary of State Colin Powell called publically last week on Mr. Arafat to make the security apparatus under his control available to Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. But Arafat appears to have moved in the opposite direction, tightening his grasp on the forces.

"Yasser Arafat is sending a clear message that he is still the leader, he still has the legitimacy, and he is the symbol," says Mahdi Abdul-Hadi, director of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs.

Through intricate internal politicking, analysts say, Arafat is clearly trying to curb the power of Mr. Abbas's security chief, Mohammed Dahlan.

This week Arafat has been trying to push through the central committee of his Fatah movement the appointment of an interior minister, Nasser Yusuf, to whom Mr. Dahlan would be subordinate.

And on Monday, the veteran leader created a new security post and gave it to his own loyalist, Jibril Rajoub - a step that could also fragment Dahlan's authority.

As the conflict with Israel moves toward ever fiercer escalation, Arafat's maneuverings on the internal front are seen as signals that he - and not the US or Abbas, whom it backs - calls the shots in Palestinian politics.

The US, though not the European Union, has for months shunned Arafat because of alleged ties to terror. He remains confined in his partly destroyed Ramallah headquarters, and is not allowed by Israel to travel outside that city.

Arafat's reminder of his clout comes at a time of acute crisis in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

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