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Palestinian Cabinet Takes Office Today

Palestinian Cabinet Takes Office Today

RAMALLAH - Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmad Qurei' has finished forming a cabinet and will present it before the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) for approval on Wednesday.

Palestinian political sources in Ramallah City told IPC correspondent that Qurei' has finished the formation of an enlarged government that will hold 24 ministers on Tuesday, and that the government will be sworn in by President Yasser Arafat today after the PLC gives its vote of confidence on it.

"Once the government gets a confidence vote...the focus will be on reviving the peace process with Israel," Saeb Erekat, slated to be a cabinet minister, told Reuters. "This government will focus on maintaining the rule of law and ending chaos."

Several expected ministers from the Gaza Strip were absent from the session PM Qurei' made with his cabinet ministers, due to Israeli travel restrictions, but informed sources said that they would arrive today evening for the confidence voting session at the PLC building in the city of Ramallah.

The formation and approval of the new cabinet will empower and enable PM Qurei' of reinitiating negotiations with the Israeli government about a new truce, sources from Qurei's office said. The Palestinian premiere has begun a round of talks earlier with Palestinian resistance factions to get their support of a new truce with the Israeli government.

In response to the new Palestinian cabinet, Israeli sources were quoted as saying that such cabinet will be unable to rein in "terrorism", referring to the Palestinian resistance, and that the Palestinian President is the one in control of this government.

However, an Israeli official told Al Jazeera TV that the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is ready to meet with PM Qurei' as soon as the latter's government is approved, provided that Qurei's meeting with the new cabinet succeeds in fighting "terrorism" and performing reforms in the Palestinian security bodies.

On his side, PM Qurei' said that he would meet with his Israeli counterpart only if the latter agrees in advance to take steps to revive frozen peace talks, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, the US reaction, which has always been in support of the Israeli policy line, and discouraging of the Palestinians, has changed to the extent that the new cabinet's success would be judged through its actions and achievements, according to the spokesman of the US Department of State, Richard Boucher.

"So we will judge the Palestinian government on that basis as they take office and as they start to do things. The new cabinet, as we've said before, needs to make clear that it's opposed in all its forms to terrorism. That's the criteria by which we shall judge them," Boucher said in a daily press briefing on Tuesday.

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