Tue, Oct 07, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Arafat appoints crisis government headed by Qureia

AP , RAMALLAH, WEST BANK

Yasser Arafat installed an eight-member emergency Cabinet with Ahmed Qureia as prime minister, an apparent attempt to deflect possible Israeli action against him following a suicide bombing.

Israel threatened last month to "remove" Arafat, without setting a time, and there were new demands for his expulsion after Saturday's attack by Islamic Jihad. Nineteen Israelis were killed in a crowded beachfront restaurant in the northern port city of Haifa.

Aides to the Palestinian leader said Sunday he was clearly concerned about possible Israeli action after the bombing. There was no direct move against Arafat on Sunday; instead, Israel bombed a target inside Syria that it claimed was an Islamic Jihad training base, striking deep inside its neighbor's territory Sunday for the first time in three decades.

In installing an emergency Cabinet, Arafat makes it more difficult for Israel to move against him. The US appears willing to give Qureia a chance, and any Israeli action against Arafat could force Qureia's immediate resignation and cause chaos in Palestinian areas.

Qureia, who had been tapped for the job last month, had initially planned to present a larger Cabinet to parliament for approval today. Arafat's decree Sunday meant that Qureia takes office immediately.

"Taking into consideration the difficult situation of the Palestinian people and the necessities imposed by the situation, President Arafat issued a presidential decree by which he declared a state of emergency ... and formed an emergency government headed by me," Qureia said.

Qureia also said he would try to implement the US-backed "road map" peace plan and "work ... to get out of this situation of chaos in the Palestinian territories."

Qureia has not outlined his security plan, though he is not expected to dismantle militant groups, as required by the road map. Palestinian Authority officials fear a confrontation with Hamas and Islamic Jihad will trigger internal fighting.

Qureia said three portfolios were assigned: Nabil Shaath as foreign minister, Salam Fayad as finance minister and Nasser Yousef as interior minister.

Qureia listed the other five members of the Cabinet as Saeb Erekat, the current chief negotiator; Nabil Abul Hummus, the current education minister; Jamal Shobaki, the current minister of local affairs; and two legislators from Arafat's Fatah movement, Abdel Rahman Hamad and Jawad Tibi.

The Cabinet is to be sworn in today and will immediately hold its first meeting, Qureia said.

Earlier in the day, Arafat spoke by video conference with security chiefs in the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian official said on condition of anonymity. Details of the conversation were not released.

The Palestinian official said security forces have taken some action against militants in recent days, seizing more than 180kg of explosives in the West Bank town of Jericho and arresting five would-be attackers.

The claim could not immediately be verified independently, and the Israeli military said it could not comment until the end of Yom Kippur.

In the Gaza Strip, Israeli troops fired from a tank-mounted machine gun at a group of Palestinians crossing a road closed by the military. A 26-year-old man was killed and three people were wounded, witnesses and hospital officials said.

The road had been closed earlier in the day as part of travel restrictions imposed after the suicide bombing. Troops sealed off parts of Gaza, cutting the 32km long coastal strip into four sections, to prevent the movement of militants and weapons, army officials said.

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