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Sunday, 9 June, 2002, 16:27 GMT 17:27 UK
Arafat overhauls Palestinian cabinet
Yasser Arafat (left) addresses assembly
Arafat's new government will have fewer ministers
A new Palestinian cabinet structure has been announced following pressure at home and abroad for reform of Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority (PA).

The number of ministers is being cut by about a third from the current 32.

It will be a smaller, more effective cabinet

Palestinian minister Nabil Shaath
In one of the most important changes, Major General Abdel-Razzek al-Yehiye has been given the powerful new post of interior minister.

He is expected to oversee a radical overhaul of the Palestinian security forces.

Mr Arafat had kept the interior portfolio for himself since the Palestinian Authority (PA) was established eight years ago.

His announcement came as Israeli leader Ariel Sharon rejected the idea of a rigid timetable for peace talks, insisting that the violence must end before any dialogue can resume.

Radical shake-up

Last month Mr Arafat promised to call fresh elections and reform the PA, which has been accused of corruption and mismanagement.

He is also expected to announce a shake-up of the security forces in the coming days.

Announcing the changes, Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo told a news conference: "This transitional government will have the task of preparing the municipal, legislative and presidential elections, slated for the end of 2002 and the start of 2003."

Minister Nabil Shaath said it would be "a smaller, more effective cabinet".

Ariel Sharon speaking in the Knesset
Sharon: Says the Palestinian Authority is corrupt
Some ministries are being merged while others become independent agencies outside the cabinet, officials said.

Yasser Arafat said that every Palestinian faction had participated in the reform process, but the Legislative Council which needs to agree to the changes has not yet been consulted.

US and Israeli leaders have both been urging Mr Arafat to reform the PA to help stop suicide attacks in the 20-month Palestinian uprising, paving the way for peace talks to resume.

During the recent visit by US CIA chief George Tenet, the Palestinian leader agreed to sweeping reforms that provided a clear chain of command.

A key focus of their talks was the failure of Palestinian forces to prevent suicide attacks on Israelis.

Barrier to talks

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said there can be no peace talks with the Palestinians without fundamental reform of the PA.

The Israeli leader has also reiterated that he will not hold meetings with the Palestinians until there is an end to the attacks on his people.

But the violence shows no sign of abating - so far this weekend, 11 people have died, mostly due to Palestinian attacks on Israeli settlements.

Mr Sharon is currently in Washington ahead of talks with President Bush on the situation in the Middle East.

The BBC's Jonny Dymond
"The cabinet had become large and unwieldy"
The BBC's Caroline Hawley in Gaza
"News of the new government has been greeted with indifference and deep disappointment"

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See also:

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