updated 4/2/2005 6:35:21 AM ET 2005-04-02T11:35:21

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas accepted the resignation of his West Bank security commander on Saturday amid growing complaints of lawlessness in the area, a spokesman said on condition of anonymity.

Earlier this week, gunmen with ties to the commander, Ismail Jaber, rampaged through three Ramallah restaurants and attacked the Palestinian government compound — a defiant response to requests by Abbas that they either lay down their weapons or join the security forces. The gunmen were members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a violent group with ties to the ruling Fatah movement.

On Friday, Abbas fired the local security chief in Ramallah, Younis Al-Aas, said Palestinian officials.

After the gunmen’s rampage, Abbas initially decided not to confront them, acting on Jaber’s advice that a crackdown would only lead to more violence, officials said. However, Abbas’ decision drew criticism from some of his advisers and security chiefs. Abbas has since reconsidered, the official said.

The incident reflects Abbas’ biggest dilemma since being elected Palestinian Authority president in January. If he permits Palestinian militants to continue to act with impunity, he will increasingly be perceived as ineffective by ordinary Palestinians and risks alienating the international community, which has been pushing for a crackdown and sweeping security reform. Many of the militants have also engaged in extortion, kidnappings and other crimes — in addition to attacks on Israel in the past four years.

However, a confrontation could easily spin out of control, at a time when Abbas is not yet fully in control.

Underscoring the chaos, about two dozen Al Aqsa gunmen stormed a youth center in the West Bank refugee camp of Balata late Friday. They tried to disrupt elections for the center’s nine board members — smashing tables and chairs and firing into the air — after it became apparent that the rival militant group Hamas had won a majority, Hamas activists said.

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