YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Former Army Chief of Staff Accepts Post as Israel's Defense Minister

Shaul Mofaz, known as a hard-liner, is appointed after recent Cabinet upheaval.

November 03, 2002|From Associated Press

JERUSALEM — Israel's former army chief of staff accepted the job of defense minister Saturday, after the post became vacant with the resignation of Labor Party leader Binyamin Ben-Eliezer from the coalition government.

Shaul Mofaz's appointment by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is to be put before Israel's parliament for confirmation Monday, Sharon's office said in a statement.

Mofaz has a reputation as a hard-liner and oversaw the army's crackdown against the Palestinian uprising for most of the last two years. He also has advocated exiling Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

In the West Bank on Saturday, Israeli soldiers thwarted an attempted suicide bombing when they stopped two Palestinians carrying an explosive belt in a car at a checkpoint in the West Bank, the army said.

The men were stopped at Tappuah junction, south of the city of Nablus, and taken in for questioning. The belt was detonated, an army statement said.

Ben-Eliezer and five other Labor ministers quit the government on Wednesday amid a squabble over settlements funding in the West Bank and Gaza. The move left Sharon's coalition with only 55 seats in the 120-seat parliament. He is widely expected to turn to ultra-right and religious parties to muster the majority he needs.

Sharon held talks Friday night with former Premier Benjamin Netanyahu, offering him the foreign affairs portfolio formerly held by Labor's Shimon Peres. No decision was reached, and the two planned to resume talks today, an official said.

A senior official in Sharon's office, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that despite the Cabinet upheaval, the government's policies would remain unchanged and Israel would honor all its pledges to the United States.

The official did not elaborate, but one of Sharon's commitments to President Bush is to not physically harm Arafat.

Speaking in an interview broadcast Saturday on BBC television, Peres said he thought that the Sharon government's days were now numbered.

"He can limp on, [but] not for a very long period of time, because when you have a small coalition -- which means a small grouping with many parties -- you are in trouble. Every small party becomes a pressure group," Peres said. The interview took place in Mallorca, Spain, where Peres was attending an annual Israeli-Palestinian political conference.

The daughter of slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said a hard-line government could revitalize liberal opposition.

"An extreme right government could put wind back into the sails of the peace movement," Dalia Rabin-Pelossof told Israeli television at a Tel Aviv gathering marking seven years since the Nov. 4, 1995, assassination of her father.

About 100,000 people turned up for the event, held in the same square where Rabin was gunned down by an extremist Israeli who opposed his policy of compromise with the Palestinians, the television report said.

The crowd watched videotaped greetings from former President Clinton, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah, who said that if Rabin were alive today he would be shocked and angered by the Mideast violence but not discouraged from trying to end it.

Los Angeles Times Articles