JERUSALEM – Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (search) stepped in to assert Tuesday that he -- not his prime minister -- is in charge of the Palestinian side in negotiations with Israel, throwing plans for an Israeli-Palestinian summit into confusion.
The dispute underlined the power struggle between Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas (search), the prime minister he grudgingly appointed under international pressure, as efforts to move forward on a new peace plan intensified.
Arafat since then has been fighting a rear-guard action to limit Abbas' powers, objecting to the makeup of his Cabinet and inserting many of his stalwarts, retaining control of most of the Palestinian security forces and keeping for himself the final word over peace moves.
This counters the Israeli and U.S. intention to sideline Arafat, charging that he is tainted with terrorism and had led his Palestinian Authority into corruption and inefficiency.
There were varying accounts on whether Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) would meet as planned Wednesday for talks on implementing the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan. It would be their second meeting since Abbas assumed office in April.
Arafat said he wanted to review Israeli proposals on security arrangements before approving another summit -- raising the possibility of a delay, a member of the PLO Executive Committee said on condition of anonymity.
The official said that with the jockeying over the summit, Arafat was sending a message to the United States, Israel and Abbas that Arafat makes the decisions over negotiations.
However, Palestinian Cabinet Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said later that the summit was still on for Wednesday. But Sharon aide Raanan Gissin denied that. "There will be no meeting Wednesday," he told The Associated Press.
In an interview with the Israeli daily Haaretz, published on the newspaper's Web site late Tuesday, Abbas spoke out in support of Arafat.
Abbas took office April 30 under a new law that gives the PLO executive the right of approval over negotiating steps with Israel. Arafat controls the PLO bodies, where Abbas is his deputy.
"Arafat is the elected president of the Palestinian Authority and should not be isolated," he said, calling on Israel to release Arafat from a virtual house arrest in his West Bank headquarters.
Sharon and Abbas met on May 17, the first Israeli-Palestinian summit meeting since the violence erupted in September 2000. No agreements emerged.
Meanwhile, officials are arranging a three-way summit with President Bush, Sharon and Abbas early next month, possibly in Jordan.
Jordan's information minister said Bush would hold a three-way summit as well as a separate meeting with Egypt and Jordan's leaders next week in Jordan. But the White House said Bush is still considering a number of possibilities.
The road map is a three-stage U.S.-backed plan that calls for creation of a full Palestinian nation in 2005. The first stage calls for a halt to nearly 32 months of Palestinian-Israeli violence. Israel conditionally accepted the plan on Sunday, a month after the Palestinians approved the formula and insisted it be implemented unchanged.
At the United Nations, Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Tuesday called Israel's acceptance of the road map "a very encouraging development."
Israel, however, has raised 14 reservations about the plan, including a demand that only the United States should oversee implementation of the road map -- not the other members of the quartet: Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.
"It is something we will tackle as we move forward," Annan said when asked about that demand, which would exclude the United Nations.
Violence continued Tuesday.
In the West Bank, Israeli troops killed a 16-year-old they said was throwing a firebomb. Two children, ages 7 and 9, were critically wounded in clashes with the military, Palestinian hospital officials said.
Five Palestinian children, a Palestinian woman and a police officer were injured Tuesday after accidentally detonating explosives in the West Bank city of Hebron.
Late Monday, Israeli soldiers fired on four diplomatic vehicles in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, diplomats said. No one was hurt. Peter Lundberg, an official from the Swedish Consulate in Jerusalem, said two bullets hit the windshield of the Swiss Consulate's armored car, and diplomatic cars of Sweden, Denmark and the European Union also came under fire.
The military expressed regret, saying soldiers fired to break up a crowd of Palestinians and bullets inadvertently hit the diplomat's vehicle.