11/15/2004, 00.00
PALESTINE

Civil war looms over Palestine after Arafat's death

Fatah dissidents are behind gunfire in Gaza.  Letter is to be sent to Palestinian Authority over Christians' security in Palestine.

Bethlehem (AsiaNews) –  Concern is spreading among Palestinians after a group of men unleashed gunfire that yesterday killed two people but left Mahmoud Abbas (aka Abu Mazen), one of Arafat's possible successor, unhurt.

According to Samir Qumsieh, owner and general manager of Bethlehem's Christian TV station al-Mahed, "people are afraid that factions might start fighting with one another for power. For this reason, it is important that investigators find out who was behind the attack against Abu Mazen".

During a mourning service for Mr Arafat in Gaza City yesterday, armed men started shooting after shouting slogans against Abu Mazen and his ally Mohammed Dahlan, former Gaza security chief, calling both "lackeys of the Americans". The men are dissident members of Fatah, Abu Mazen's own party, but the Palestinian leader said that he was "100 per cent certain" that the shots were not directed at him. ""Emotions were high," he said. "There was random gunfire and pushing in the crowd."

Still, the population is now concerned about a possible power struggle. "If what happened yesterday was an attack," Mr Qumsieh said, "things can get very serious. Civil war might become real." The Christian broadcaster said that for decades Arafat held all power and was a popular leader. "It will be hard to replace him," he added.

Meantime, provisional President Rawhi Fattuh yesterday announced presidential elections for January 9, 2005. Abu Mazen, newly-appointed chairman of the Palestine Liberation organisation (PLO), will be running for the post. Other possible candidates are current Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei (aka Abu Ala) and Farouk Kaddoumi, newly-appointed head of Fatah. Abu Mazen, considered a moderate, has been critical of the "militarisation of the intifada".

What is happening at the top of the Palestinian political structure is worrying Christians. "We are part and parcel of this country," Mr Qumsieh said, "and we are following events first and foremost as Palestinians, but also as Christians."

"Until we have elections and a new chief, it will be hard to know what the future has in store for the Palestinian people," Mr Qumsieh stressed. Whoever Arafat's successor will be, the president of al-Mahed said, "he will have to deal decisively" with the overall security situation as well as the need for protection of Palestinian Christians. "With this in mind, we are preparing a letter for the Palestinian Authority that will deal with the issue."

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