PA intelligence chief suspected of terror links reportedly sacked by Arafat

Palestinian security officials said that Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat yesterday signed orders to dismiss West Bank General Intelligence Service head Tawfik Tirawi. Tirawi denied the reports. Israeli officials believe Tirawi is directly involved in organizing terrorist attacks against Israelis. Yesterday, Palestinians marched in Hebron to protest the dismissal of West Bank Preventive Security Chief Jibril Rajoub.

General Intelligence Service Chief Amin al-Hindi published a denial of Tirawi's dismissal, media sources reported. Earlier, Agence France Presse reported that al-Hindi, himself, had demanded that Arafat fire Tirawi.

Arafat reportedly appointed Brig.-Gen. Sameh Abdel Majib, one of Tirawi's deputies, to replace him. Palestinian officials said that Arafat has signed the dismissal orders, but has decided not to make them public at this time.

MK Ahmad Tibi (Ta-al), a former close advisor of Arafat, said the reports of Tirawi's dismissal were "wishful thinking" on the part of Israel, or even of certain officials in the PA. Tibi claimed that the news item had been "planted" on the ynet website and was "baseless."

Palestinian officials blamed Israel for spreading the reports in attempts to portray Arafat as a weak leader in fear of his security commanders, Yediot Aharonot reported. Some officials said that Rajoub had leaked the story in revenge for being dismissed by Arafat.

Tirawi has reportedly taken refuge in Arafat's Mukata government compound in Ramallah, in fear that Israeli security forces would attempt to capture or assassinate him. Palestinian sources said that Tirawi would remain in the Mukata as long as Israeli forces were in the city.

Shin Bet officials believe that Tirawi is involved "up to the neck" in terrorist activities. Documents seized by the IDF during Operation Defensive Shield showed that Tirawi's General Intelligence Service had prior information about the PFLP cell that carried out the assassination of the late Tourism Minister Rechavam Ze'evi, and did nothing to prevent it.

Additional documents seized showed that Tirawi was directly involved in trying to assist the family of Wafa Idris, the female suicide bomber who blew herself up in Jerusalem on January 27, killing one Israeli and injuring over 130 others. Tirawi reportedly offered a deal to transfer to Jordan Idris's brother, who was also involved in terrorist activities, and in return the Idris family would refrain from declaring that Wafa had carried out the attack. The deal fell through, and the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade issued a statement claiming responsibility for the bombing.

PFLP operative Omar Maradi, arrested in June by Israeli security forces, revealed during questioning that Tirawi provided him with a Kalashnikov assault rifle and personally directed him to carry out shooting attacks in the Ramallah area.

Senior IDF officers until recently referred to Tirawi as a "gentleman," Ha'aretz reported. But several weeks ago, Prime Minister Ariel Sharonissued orders to the army to arrest him for his involvement in terror activities.

Rajoub, Arafat meet for first time since dismissal Rajoub and Arafat met Sunday evening for the first time since reports of his dismissal leaked into the media. Palestinian officials said the meeting came at Arafat's request, and that Rajoub participated in Arafat's talks with Egyptian Intelligence chief Gen. Omar Suleiman. Suleiman reportedly urged Arafat to implement immediate reforms and establish calm, so that the political process could resume.

Some Palestinian officials said that Arafat was considering appointing Rajoub as Deputy Interior Minister, under Abdel Razek al-Yehiye. The position, which is in charge of all Palestinian security forces, would be considered a promotion, the officials said.

Rajoub told Reuters yesterday that he told Arafat it was "a big mistake to appoint (this) new chief" - Zuhair Manasra, governor of Jenin. "(But) I don't think that there will be any rebellion or anything" against Arafat, Rajoub added.

Around 1,000 Palestinians, mainly security men, marched through Hebron yesterday in the biggest display of anger over Rajoub's dismissal yet. Palestinian sources said that more than 100 top security officials refused in a meeting in Ramallah on Saturday to accept Arafat's appointment of Manasra, and instead insisted that an experienced officer from the Preventive Security forces would replace Rajoub.

Rajoub seen emerging a winner from dismissal Arafat's dismissals of security officials were not part of a sweeping reform of the Palestinian Authority, but rather his attempt to retain total control of what was happening in the PA, Roni Shaked wrote today in Yediot Aharonot. Arafat was strengthening his own standing by removing factors he felt were threatening his regime, and moving to replace them with people who were more loyal to him.

Former Gaza Police chief Col. Ghazi Jabali, who Arafat dismissed along with Rajoub, was considered the symbol of Palestinian corruption, and therefore the public approved of his dismissal, Shaked wrote. Tirawi's dismissal, if it is true, was also expected to pass quietly, because he has no real power base.

But Arafat apparently didn't anticipate the opposition that would result from his dismissal of Rajoub. If Arafat retracts the dismissal, as some of Rajoub's loyal officers are demanding, it would further weaken his power base. And if he insists on removing Rajoub from all positions of power, the officers might increase their actions protesting Arafat's regime.

Shaked concluded that Rajoub would emerge from the dismissal stronger than ever. He will either receive a new, high-level position, or continue to control the Preventive Security forces from behind the scenes. This prepares Rajoub, Shaked wrote, for his next real battle - the race to take over the Palestinian leadership after Arafat is gone.

Ellis Shuman Israelinsider

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