11/05/2004, 00.00
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Concern and confusion over what might happen after Arafat

Bethlehem (AsiaNews) – For Bethlehem residents, Arafat is already dead. Some people contacted by AsiaNews said under condition of anonymity that "Arafat's regime is over. Everyone here is just waiting for the announcement of his death".

People are dismayed, "worried because no one knows whether things will remain peaceful or lead to violence," said Samir Qumsieh, president of Bethlehem's Christian television al-Mahed. Still,

"Hamas has already stated that it is not interested in dividing Palestinian society to gain power because a civil war would be too dangerous". According to Qumsieh, "there is a lot of confusion" in Palestine.

The social and political chaos in the Territories is accentuated by the fact that Arafat never appointed a successor for any of his three posts (chairman of the Fatah Movement, President of the Palestinian Authority and leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation).

Under the Palestinian transitional constitution (Basic Law) should the president die or become incapacitated, the president of the Palestinian parliament takes over the government for 60 days during new elections are held.

Qumsieh said that "it is uncertain whether this will occur under peaceful conditions or in violence  caused by different political groups vying for power".

In the meantime, prayers for Arafat's recovery are being recited in mosques across the Palestinian Territories. Rev Hanna Atallah, a Greek Orthodox priest who is close to the Palestinian Authority, expressed his solidarity towards Arafat in a joint statement with Muslim leaders. In the past, the Orthodox Patriarchate had called him to order on the grounds that clergymen "are religious, not political leaders".

Fr Manawel Musallam, the Latin priest of the Holy Family parish church in Gaza, has also started prayer sessions for Arafat's recovery. (LF)

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