Fri, Oct 10, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Palestinians delay vote on Cabinet

TENSE WEEKEND The postponement came as Israel called up more reserves and a suicide bomber attacked an Israeli army post, killing the attacker and two others

AP , RAMALLAH, WEST BANK

A Palestinian woman waits to cross the border into Israel at the Sourda checkpoint, north of Ramallah, on Wednesday. The Israeli army had closed the area to Palestinian movement, forcing them to wait.

PHOTO: REUTERS

In a setback for the new Palestinian prime minister, legislators put off a vote on his Cabinet amid bitter disputes yesterday over its composition and size, while in the West Bank, a suicide bomber detonated explosives near an Israeli army base.

The bomber apparently was a woman, radio reports said. The explosion killed the attacker and wounded two people, one seriously, paramedics said. The blast went off near a base outside the West Bank town of Tulkarem, security officials said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

The bombing came after Israel ordered a special call-up yesterday of four reserve battalions to patrol the West Bank and Gaza.

The arguments over the Palestinian Cabinet flared in back-room negotiations even as dozens of legislators and hundreds of Palestinian officials gathered for the expected confirmation of an emergency eight-person Cabinet appointed earlier this week by Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.

"Everyone has his own script and so we feel that we need more time. We are sorry for troubling you," Deputy Parliament Speaker Ibrahim Abu Najar told legislators, who had been waiting at Arafat's headquarters here for more than an hour.

The postponement of the Cabinet vote, which was tentatively rescheduled for tomorrow, came as factions within Arafat's Fatah movement argued over the status and size of the Cabinet. The chaos yesterday was considered an embarrassment for new Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia.

"If this government were presented ... today it would have failed," said Salah Tamari, a Fatah legislator.

Some wanted it to remain an emergency Cabinet, which would have expired in one month, while others favored confirming the Cabinet with a vote in the parliament, which would turn it into a regular Cabinet, according to Palestinian Legislator Hanan Ashrawi. Many of the legislators, including those who had not been included in the Cabinet, voiced objections to its small size.

"This is a constitutional crisis," Ashrawi said.

Qureia's success is key to efforts to salvage the US-backed "road map" peace plan, which foresees an end to three years of violence and a Palestinian state by 2005. It has been stalled for months, with neither side carrying out key requirements, and bloodshed has continued.

Yesterday, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz ordered a special call up of four reserve battalions, roughly 1,000 soldiers, to patrol the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The call up was to begin in about 10 days, after the end of the weeklong Sukkot holiday which begins tonight.

Mofaz had already ordered on Wednesday two battalions of active-duty soldiers sent to the West Bank and Gaza, canceling leaves and training courses, and ordered the continuation of a strict lockdown on Palestinian areas, reportedly at least through Oct. 22.

Restrictions on Palestinians, barring them from entering Israel and preventing many from leaving their towns, were tightened after an Islamic Jihad bomber killed 19 Israelis in the port city of Haifa last Saturday.

Mofaz reportedly went against the recommendations of security officials who said the level of alerts about possible terror attacks was not unusual.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon faced his own Cabinet troubles with the National Religious Party threatening Wednesday to walk out of his center-right government over a religious dispute.

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