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The BBC's Orla Guerrin
"The incoming prime minister insists they must unite"
 real 56k

Senior Advisor to Ariel Sharon, Ra-anan Gissin
"We're offering an alternative approach"
 real 56k

The BBC's Nick Childs
"This deal risks splitting the Labour party"
 real 28k

Friday, 16 February, 2001, 12:47 GMT
Israel moves towards unity deal
Funeral for one of the victims' of Wednesday's bus attack
Grief for bus victims as path for peace remains unclear
Outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak is reported to have accepted the post of defence minister in a government of national unity headed by his successor, Ariel Sharon.

The veteran Labour politician, Shimon Peres, has been offered the post of foreign minister in the broad-based coalition.

Ariel Sharon
Sharon needs Knesset majority to take office
The developments were announced by a Labour Party spokesman following talks between Mr Barak and Ariel Sharon, the right-wing Likud party leader who won a landslide victory in last week's prime ministerial election.

A Palestinian spokesman said they did not expect good things from the likely government.

'Government of generals'

"The one-colour government is not a coalition government. It is a government of generals who carry out aggression against our people," Ahmed Abdel-Rahman told the Reuters news agency.

Mr Abdel-Rahman's comments come as Israeli security forces prepare for another "day of rage" by occupants of the Palestinian territories following a week of bloodshed.

In almost five months of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, about 400 people - the great majority of them Palestinians - have been killed.

'Collaborator' killing

In the latest violence, the AFP news agency reported a Palestinian security officer, Anwar Mustafa Merhi, 33, was killed in his home on Friday.

Palestinian security officer Hassan Mohammed Musalam, 53, is condemned to death for collaboration
Suspected collaborators are sentenced to death
AFP quoted unnamed sources close to the Palestinian security services as saying Mr Merhi was probably killed by Palestinians with a record of collaborating with the Israelis.

Mr Merhi is said to have taken part in the executions of such collaborators, who are reviled by many Palestinians.

Contradictory strategies

The Likud and Labour parties, Israel's two largest, have been at odds over how to make peace with the Palestinians. The hawkish Mr Sharon, regarded with fear and suspicion by many Arabs, opposes territorial concessions offered by Mr Barak before the election.

But both sides have spoken of unity as a response to the Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Shimon Peres
Mr Peres could ease international concern
Mr Sharon, who cannot take office until he forges a majority coalition, has said a Likud-Labour pact would "enable us to reach security and peace".

BBC Middle East specialist Nick Childs says both sides stand to gain from a unity deal.

Mr Sharon might ease fears that he is an extremist by working with internationally respected Labour figures such as Mr Peres, a Nobel peace prize laureate.

Labour would gain continuing influence by joining a government led by Mr Sharon.

Israeli radio said after the agreement was announced that Likud and Labour would have seven portfolios each in the national unity government.

Likud and Labour together to do not control enough seats to form a majority government in Israel's splintered parliament.

Labour approval

A final decision on the participation of Mr Barak and Mr Peres in the government can only be taken at a Labour Party central committee meeting in the next few days.

Ehud Barak
Ehud Barak: Needs party backing to take up post
After Mr Barak's resounding election defeat, after which he said he would step down as Labour leader and a member of Israel's parliament, the Knesset, approval for his move is not certain.

Our correspondent says Mr Barak's decision to join a coalition so soon after announcing his retirement from public life is bound to anger many party colleagues and may even lead to a split.

The talks came as Israel buried its dead from Wednesday's attack on Israelis by a Palestinian bus driver, who drove into a crowd, killing seven soldiers and one civilian.

In response to the bus attack, Israel has imposed its toughest restrictions yet on access to and from the Palestinian territories:

  • all Palestinians banned from entering Israel
  • closure of border crossings between the West Bank and Jordan and between Gaza and Egypt
  • restriction of travel by Palestinians within the territories
  • closure of the Palestinian airport in Gaza
  • sea blockade of the territories.

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14 Feb 01 | Middle East
US: Mid-East getting out of control
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