Arafat fills meeting with supporters



TUNIS, Tunisia (AP)—Yasser Arafat brought dozens of his supporters to a meeting Sunday of a key PLO policy-making body considering his peace deal with Israel.

The 107-member Palestine Central Council was meeting to decide whether or not to approve the accord on self-rule for the occupied territories. Arafat packed the chamber with his supporters—including many non-Council members.

Approval by the Central Council is a preliminary step to formal approval by the Palestine National Congress, or parliament in exile, whose approval is required under the accord.

The Council, which functions as the policy-making body in between meetings of the much larger Congress, was not expected to make a decision until Monday at the earliest.

Despite opposition from hard-line Palestinian factions, Arafat was expected to win a vote of approval from the Council.

The hard-liners wound up a three-day meeting in Damascus, Syria, on Saturday vowing to keep on fighting Israel, but it appeared they could not agree on forming an alternative leadership to Arafat and his Palestine Liberation Organization loyalists.

Under the Sept. 13 peace accord, Palestinians won a measure of self-rule in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho, with their powers to be spread over a wider area pending talks in the next three years.

Radicals within the PLO oppose the accord because it fails to deal with crucial issues such as the status of Jerusalem or guarantee the right of refugees to return to their homes.

The small conference room at a Palestinian school where the meeting was held was packed with more than 200 Palestinians, double the number of the council’s members.

Arafat loyalist Salim al-Zanoon told the council before it started deliberations that a group of Palestinians from the occupied territories was ‘‘invited’‘ to take part in the discussions—and its decision-making.

Al-Zanoon did not explain how the nearly 50 Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza could participate in the voting of the council.

It was not clear how many actual members of the council attended the meeting because Arafat’s security men asked journalists to leave when council secretary Mohammed Subaih started checking the quorum.

PLO officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Arafat had packed the council with his own backers by reworking the membership of the largest group on the council—his own Fatah faction.

Although this was sure to raise a storm among the hard-liners, Palestinian officials said PLO factions were technically entitled to change their representatives on the council. Arafat could make the changes for Fatah because he leads the faction.

Among the rebellious leaders he has taken off the council are Hani al-Hassan, Abbas Zaki, Mohammed Jihad and Sakhr Nizar—who also are members of Fatah’s powerful Central Committee. The PLO officials said those four were replaced by Arafat loyalists.