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The BBC's Paul Adams in Jerusalem
"The Labour Party is a very weakened vessel right now"
 real 28k

The BBC's Jeremy Cooke in Jerusalem
"This has been an agonising decision"
 real 28k

The Labour Party's Yossi Beilin
"This is not going to be a government of peace"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 27 February, 2001, 10:32 GMT
Sharon moves to form government
Labour Party elder statesman Shimon Peres
Mr Peres fought to convince his party
Israel's Prime Minister-elect, Ariel Sharon, is expected to start talks with right-wing and religious parties on Tuesday after the Labour party agreed to join a national unity government.

But in the wake of a stormy Labour party central committee meeting, a leading party member warned Mr Sharon that he cannot count on unified Labour support in parliament.


In many instances, Israeli security forces used excessive force against demonstrators

US human rights report
The Labour party meeting came as the United States criticised both Israel and the Palestinians in its annual human rights report, issued on Monday.

And, in a move that could heighten tension between the two sides, Israel arrested the brother of a leading Palestinian activist at a border crossing with Jordan on Tuesday.

Hisham Barghouti - whose brother Marwan is a leading Palestinian figure in the West Bank - was accused of carrying materials that could be used in weapons.

Mr Barghouti, a Saudi national, said the equipment was for his son's camera.

Convincing margin

The Labour party chose to join a Sharon government by a margin of about two to one after a stormy meeting at which the party's elder statesman, Shimon Peres, had to shout to make himself heard.

Outgoing Justice Minister Yossi Beilin, Labour dissident
Mr Beilin says Labour is not united
Mr Sharon won a landslide victory against incumbent Prime Minister Ehud Barak earlier this month.

He then invited Labour to join a unity government that would tackle a nearly five-month-old Palestinian uprising.

There was fervent opposition in Labour ranks against joining a coalition, with many members passionately opposed to Mr Sharon's hardline, uncompromising approach to dealing with the Palestinians.

'Part of the party'

On Tuesday, outgoing Justice Minister Yossi Beilin warned Mr Sharon that "he is getting only part of the Labour party".

A leading peace advocate, Mr Beilin told Israel army radio that Labour Party MPs who are against joining the unity government would not block its approval.

But, he said, if Sharon "thinks that [they] will come like obedient soliders, he's wrong".

Israeli Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon
Mr Sharon can now move forward on coalition talks
Many Labour MPs are likely to be further angered if, as expected, Mr Sharon enters talks with far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties.

Labour and Likud do not have enough seats in Israel's fractious parliament to govern alone.

Labour has been offered the defence and foreign affairs portfolios in a future government which, some reports suggest, could have as many as 28 ministers.

The BBC correspondent in Jerusalem says the fact that Mr Sharon will be able to present a government made up of opinion from across the political spectrum will strengthen his position as he prepares to take power.

Human rights concerns

As Israel moved towards forming a government, the United States criticised its response to the ongoing Palestinian uprising in its annual human rights report.


Israel has reacted in a proportionate, measured and responsible fashion

Foreign ministry statement
"In many instances, Israeli security forces used excessive force against demonstrators in contravention of their official rules of engagement", the report concluded.

Israel rejected the allegations, saying its actions "must be seen within the context of the current armed conflict, which has been marked by daily terrorist acts against Israeli civilians.

The US report also criticised the Palestinian Authority and its security forces.

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See also:

24 Feb 01 | Middle East
Powell presses anti-Saddam message
24 Feb 01 | Middle East
Powell opens talks with Moscow
06 Feb 01 | Middle East
What Sharon means for peace
14 Feb 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Israel's security crisis
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