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Palestinian Leader Arafat Announces January Elections

Hours earlier, the Palestinian Authority announced presidential and parliamentary elections will be held in mid-January 2003, and outlined plans to reform Palestinian financial and security institutions.

The developments come two days after the address in which Mr. Bush said he’d support the goal of a Palestinian state only after reforms and the installation of new Palestinian leadership “not compromised by terror.”

So far, the only other Palestinian politician to announce a planned presidential bid is 53-year-old political scientist Abdel Sattar Qassem, who told the Associated Press Wednesday that he expects to defeat Arafat.

“I’ll focus on the internal issues, the corruption and mismanagement and looting public money, cronyism,” he said. Qassem does not recognize Israel as a state and supports bombing and shooting attacks against Israeli civilians.

Qassem echoed the reaction of many other Arab leaders to President Bush’s call for new leadership. “Bush doesn’t have the right to tell our people what to do,” he said.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported Wednesday that Mr. Bush’s call for new Palestinian leadership came after he received intelligence showing Arafat approved financing for a militant group that carried out suicide bombings.

The Times quoted unidentified senior White House officials as saying intelligence reports received last week showed Arafat approved a $20,000 payment to the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the group that claimed responsibility for a bus-stop bombing that killed six people last week.

Also Wednesday, Israeli forces tightened their grip on Palestinian cities in the West Bank in an effort to crack down on militant groups. At least 700,000 Palestinians are under curfew and Israeli forces have made dozens of arrests.