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The BBC's Frank Gardner in Jerusalem
"The post ...is seen as vital to the new government's bid to restore security to Israel"
 real 28k

Friday, 2 March, 2001, 15:58 GMT
Israel gets new defence chief
A supporter congratulates Binyamin Ben Eliezer who is to be Israel's new defence minister
Congratulations for Mr Ben Eliezer on his new post
Binyamin Ben Eliezer, a former general, has been chosen by the Israeli Labour Party as defence minister in the new power-sharing government being formed by Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon.

Mr Sharon, leader of the right-wing Likud party, has promised Labour eight posts, including the defence and foreign affairs portfolios.

Former Prime Minister Shimon Peres was unopposed as Labour's nominee for foreign minister.

Israeli Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon
Ariel Sharon: Racing to form a coalition government
Israel is also to get its first ever-Arab minister, as Labour has elected one of its members, Salah Tarif, to serve as a minister without portfolio.

A spokesman for the young, relatively unknown politician told the BBC that Mr Tarif would be serving in the prime minister's office dealing with all non-Jewish communities inside Israel.

Mr Ben Eliezer was elected to the defence post at a Labour Party convention in Tel Aviv.

The communications minister in the outgoing government, he also served as a general in the Israeli Defence Force.

Mr Ben Eliezer told reporters after the vote that he believed Palestinians would be satisfied with his selection, knowing he had worked hard for peace.

Binyamin Ben Eliezer
1936: Born in Iraq
1950: Emigrated to Israel
Key army roles in West Bank, Gaza, and southern Lebanon
1984: Joined parliament
Served as housing and communications minister
But he added: "It is intolerable that we learn every day that another Israeli has been killed."

And he expressed regret that the Palestinians "had overturned the negotiating table and opted for violence".

Mr Ben Eliezer's selection to the defence post brought a warning from a senior Palestinian official.

Zakariya al-Agha, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said: "The new government and the next minister of defence must learn from what has passed, and that their use of force did not cause the Palestinian people to surrender.

"Any increase in force will backfire and damage Israel's security first."

Since being elected prime minister last month, Mr Sharon has been racing to put together a coalition.

He is expected to present his proposed government to the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, for approval next week.

Breakthrough

A breakthrough came earlier this week when Mr Peres persuaded his party to join a national unity government in the face of strong opposition from some members, who denounced the move as a betrayal of the peace process.

The new government is being formed amid continuing violence.

A Palestinian was killed in Gaza early on Friday by Israeli forces who said he was trying to plant a bomb. Palestinians said he was an innocent victim.

The shooting comes a day after a bomb in a taxi in northern Israel killed one Israeli and wounded nine others.

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See also:

24 Feb 01 | Middle East
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06 Feb 01 | Middle East
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14 Feb 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Israel's security crisis
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