Justice minister resigns to protest Arafat's power

The official said Arafat has taken away much of his authority.
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) -- The Palestinian justice minister announced his resignation Saturday to protest Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's refusal to share power, adding to growing turmoil in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Israel's police minister, meanwhile, reiterated warnings that Jewish extremists may try to attack a Jerusalem shrine sacred to Muslims and Jews, and said suspected extremists should be detained without trial. Islamic leaders, addressing a rally of 30,000 at the holy site, accused the Israeli government of not doing enough to thwart a possible attack.
No authority
The Palestinian justice minister, Nahed Arreyes, said he has been stripped of much of his authority over the legal system. Last year, Arafat created a rival agency to the Justice Ministry and continues to control the judiciary.
Arreyes said he submitted his resignation to Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia on Wednesday. However, Qureia said he has not accepted the resignation and would press the minister to stay. "We stand by him and we hope we can resolve the issue," Qureia told reporters in Ramallah.
The resignation underscored the growing crisis in the Palestinian Authority. Arafat has been trying to beat back demands for internal reform. Adding to the chaos, different groups of gunmen have backed players on all sides, carrying out kidnappings and shootings.
In an interview in his Gaza City home, Arreyes said that he no longer had authority over state prosecutors. "The prosecution should be under the control of the Justice Ministry, according to the law," he said, declining to elaborate. "My resignation comes as a protest against the incorrect position of the prosecution."
Palestinian Planning Minister Nabil Qassis also resigned, but apparently not as an act of protest. Qassis said he was leaving the Cabinet to serve as president of Bir Zeit University, the largest in the West Bank.
Key target
In Israel, Tzahi Hanegbi, the police minister, warned that Jewish extremists might target a key Jerusalem holy site, home to two major mosques, in hopes of stopping Israel's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005.
The mosque compound is revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, site of their biblical temples, and by Muslims as Haram as-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, the spot where tradition say Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.
The compound holds the Al Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques. The Western Wall, a remnant of the last temple's retaining wall, runs along one side of the site, and is Judaism's holiest shrine. Some Jewish extremists have called repeatedly for the destruction of the mosques to make way for the rebuilding of the temple.
The site is administered by the Muslim authorities, while Israeli police are in charge of overall security.
Hanegbi said there are warning signs that extremists would try to attack the mosques or Israeli leaders.
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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