Most Middle Eastern papers focused on the byzantine maneuvers within the Palestinian leadership following the resignation of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas Saturday. On Sunday, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat nominated the speaker of the legislative council, Ahmed Qurei, to succeed Abbas. However, Qurei was too conscious of the poisoned fruit he was being offered to accept right away.
The Israeli daily Ha’aretz cited sources who indicated that Qurei had accepted the post in principle, but also quoted him saying: “I am not prime minister as yet. … I want to see the Americans—what kind of guarantee … they will [give]. … I want to see Europe, what kind of guarantees and support … they will [give]. I’m not ready for failure.” Egypt’s official daily Al-Ahram indicated how irritated Washington was to see Abbas sidelined. In what it described as a “dangerous development,” the paper reported that the Bush administration had “suspended … the road map until the legislative council had chosen a new prime minister … and [demanded] that [it] grant him complete political, security, and economic powers to fight terrorism.” Lebanon’s French-language daily L’Orient-Le Jour took a more hard-nosed look at the appointment, headlining its story: “Arafat, Again Master of the Game, Appoints Qurei.” Another Lebanese paper, Al-Nahar, cited a “senior source” (it didn’t specify a nationality) saying that Qurei was appointed for several reasons: He’s from Fatah’s Central Committee, is acceptable both to Israel and the international community, is better equipped than others to maneuver through “domestic Palestinian contradictions,” and has close ties to Arafat, while also being able to disagree with him without damaging Palestinian interests “and management of the struggle against Israel.”
Israel’s failed attempt to assassinate the spiritual leader of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, Saturday was a major weekend topic in most regional papers. On Sunday, the London-based Al-Hayat described the effort as the opening move in a “war without rules between Israel and Hamas.” In its Monday edition, the paper pointed to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s statement that all Hamas militants were “marked for death” and highlighted increasing calls by Israeli officials to exile Arafat. According to the English-language Jerusalem Post, citing Israel’s foreign minister, Sharon “will convene a cabinet meeting ‘very soon’ to discuss whether to expel … Arafat.” However, the paper also noted that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell “explicitly spoke out against Israel’s policy of targeting Hamas leaders and opposed the idea of exiling [the Palestinian Authority] Chairman.”
Across the Mediterranean in Spain, exile may have been on the mind of Al Jazeera’s high-profile correspondent Taysir Alouni, who was arrested Friday at his Granada residence for alleged collaboration with al-Qaida. Alouni, who was born in Syria but now holds Spanish citizenship, became a well-known figure in the Arab world when covering the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Spanish high court judge Baltasar Garzón issued the arrest warrant, prompting protests from Al Jazeera, press freedom groups, and other nongovernmental organizations. However, in its Saturday edition, Al-Hayat suggested the detention might have at least one enthusiast: Syria. According to the paper, the Syrian authorities warned Spain of Alouni’s “suspicious activities,” accusing him of being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Syrian regime brutally crushed in February 1982. For a time, the Syrians kept Alouni under surveillance and have banned him from re-entering Syria. Al Jazeera’s English-language site, meanwhile, devoted a section of its home page to cartoons illustrating Alouni’s situation.
As the second anniversary of 9/11 nears, al-Qaida commemorated the occasion by issuing another menacing audiotape promising attacks against Americans “everywhere.” Oddly, the London-based Saudi Al-Sharq al-Awsat placed the story, taken from the wires, on an inside page, under a headline limiting the scope of the al-Qaida statement to Iraq. On the tape, an Al-Qaida spokesman denied responsibility for the car-bomb attack that killed the Shiite cleric Muhammad Baqer al-Hakim 10 days ago. He said, “We strongly deny that Al-Qaeda had a hand in the [Hakim assassination],” and he accused “the Americans and the Jews” of being behind it “because of [Hakim’s] loyalty to Iran.” Lebanon’s Daily Star covered the tape story more extensively, noting the spokesman had also said: “We announce that there will be attacks inside and outside [the United States] which would make America forget the attacks of Sept. 11.”