RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Yasser Arafat fended off another challenge to his authority yesterday when Palestinian lawmakers backed away from sweeping demands for change, instead approving a watered down set of recommendations.
Meanwhile, amid a wave of chaos plaguing the Palestinian territories, gunmen in Gaza seriously wounded a senior intelligence official.
The two developments were an outgrowth of years of Arafat's one-man control of the authority, which international donors and Palestinian reformers have criticized as corrupt and inefficient, pitting rival security forces against each other.
Israel's intention to withdraw from the Gaza Strip late next year has sparked a power struggle among rival armed groups as Israel refuses to coordinate with Arafat's regime.
Israel contends Arafat is implicated in terrorism, but the United States and Egypt warn that bypassing his Palestinian Authority might lead to a Gaza takeover by Islamic militants.
In yesterday's incident, gunmen opened fire at a convoy carrying the deputy Palestinian intelligence chief, seriously wounding him in the chest and killing two bodyguards. The Palestinian officer, Tareq Abu Rajab, was traveling in a two-vehicle convoy in northern Gaza City when shots rang out, witnesses said. One of the vehicles overturned.
Rajab was transferred to an Israeli hospital for treatment.
There was no immediate word on who carried out the shooting. Security officials said they were investigating.
Rajab, who keeps a low public profile, is an old Arafat ally. Most recently, he was in charge of security for Palestinian diplomatic missions abroad, officials said.
Arafat, meanwhile, stonewalled his detractors once again yesterday.
Refusing to sign presidential decrees needed for restructuring his administration, Arafat instead pledged to take the necessary steps in a letter to the parliament, and the lawmakers approved it, 31-12.
The recommendations included forming a viable government capable of fighting corruption more effectively and restoring law and order. It also called on Arafat to follow through on promises that he made in a speech last week to crack down on graft and corruption.
Arafat, confined to his Ramallah headquarters for three years by Israel, has come under increasing local pressure to streamline and clean up his administration and to relinquish authority over some or all of the many competing security forces.
Arafat has resisted, while pledging to take action. However, matters have come to a head with the spreading chaos in Gaza and signs of loss of control in the West Bank, where armed gangs of militants rule the streets in some towns.
A recent wave of kidnappings underlined the anarchic security situation.
Israel and the United States are boycotting Arafat and demanding he give up control of security forces and consolidate them into efficient corps to stop violence.
But Arafat, the only leader the Palestinians have had for four decades and revered as a national symbol, is giving little ground, and despite frustration with his methods, there is little chance of his being deposed.
In his letter, Arafat emphasized the principle of separation of powers -- an implied slap at parliament for criticizing his administration -- as well as turning corruption cases over to the attorney general and leaving security forces under the control of the security council, which Arafat chairs.
Reformers sounded exasperated after several meetings with Arafat, and threats of a sit-down strike failed to yield concrete results.
Former parliament speaker Rafiq Natshe voted against Arafat's letter, saying the veteran leader must face serious issues.
"Why do you protect those who are corrupt?" Natshe said in an interview with the Associated Press, as though he was addressing Arafat. "Why do you not follow the law?"
Reform campaigner and Arafat critic Hassan Khreishe said Arafat showed no intention to act.
"The citizen needs to feel that there is real change," he said, "but he is not doing anything about it."
However, Abbas Zaki, who headed a 14-member parliamentary committee that presented demands for change to Arafat, welcomed the fact that Arafat accepted their demands in principle.
"It's true we didn't get everything we wanted," he said. "But what we got was enough."