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Arafat's Cabinet Meets After Delay

Mideast: Palestinian leader, addressing his new ministers, decries Israeli blockade.

June 14, 2002|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Yasser Arafat convened his new, streamlined Cabinet at his headquarters here Thursday, three days after Israeli tanks blockaded the complex and caused a delay.

Israel ended the blockade in Ramallah on Wednesday, and on Thursday five new ministers swore allegiance to the Palestinian Authority. The slimmer Cabinet--down to 21 ministers from 31--came after Israel, the U.S. and Europe demanded that the Palestinian Authority president reform his corruption-ridden administration.

The Cabinet was appointed Sunday and had been scheduled to meet Monday, but the Israeli military moved into Ramallah early Monday and surrounded Arafat's headquarters. Addressing his Cabinet, Arafat charged that Israel's incursion was an attempt to "sabotage" Palestinian efforts to run their affairs and work to achieve a state "with Jerusalem as its capital."

Arafat said the new Cabinet must "guarantee the restructure of the ministries and institutions of the Palestinian Authority to be more efficient," as well as "rebuild the damage caused by Israel's escalating aggression."

One of the officials held over from the previous Cabinet, Planning Minister Nabil Shaath, flew to Washington on Thursday to provide Palestinian input on Mideast peacemaking. His trip came after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met President Bush and congressional leaders this week.

Bush met for about 20 minutes Thursday with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal, according to White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.

Later, Bush said he was not ready to disclose his administration's ideas for reviving the Middle East peace process. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell this week had said one proposal could be creating an interim Palestinian state as a step toward a longer-range solution.

"I think it's probably wise for people not to spend a lot of time speculating," Bush said. "I'm going to lay out my vision at some point in time. It's going to be a vision that will help lead toward two states living side by side.

"Israelis are going to have to be responsible, Palestinians are going to have to be responsible, the Arab world is going to have to assume responsibility to achieve this vision," he said.

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