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Thursday, 16 May, 2002, 18:11 GMT 19:11 UK
Palestinian MPs call for elections
Yasser Arafat at a cabinet meeting
Mr Arafat has promised to reform the PA
Palestinian legislators have called for presidential and general elections to be held by early next year.

In a resolution, the deputies also called for municipal elections to be held this year, and urged action against corruption.

Israeli soldier checking Palestinians
The Israeli army returned to the outskirts of Ramallah
The move comes one day after Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat promised unspecified measures to reform the Palestinian Authority.

Mr Arafat's promise was welcomed by the European Union and the United States.

Earlier on Thursday, Israeli forces raided the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Nablus.

It was the first time troops had gone back into Ramallah since the army withdrew from the city two weeks ago.

Wide-ranging

A member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Hanan Ashrawi, said a legislative committee had recommended that the current Palestinian cabinet remain in office for another 45 days and then yield to a new 19-member cabinet, reduced from the current 34 ministers appointed by Mr Arafat.

Member of the Legislative Council Hanan Ashrawi
Hanan Ashrawi has criticised Palestinian human rights abuses
But the deputies could not agree a formal request for the cabinet to resign.

The resolution also called for a four-year term limit for the heads of the various security services, to prevent them from "interfering in politics and from having contacts with the Israeli side without the consent of the Palestinian political leadership".

MPs urged Mr Arafat to call to account "those who have squandered public funds" and to shut down the state security court - a tribunal that hands down verdicts that cannot be appealed.

Israeli army returns

Palestinian officials said 11 tanks backed by a helicopter thrust into the Ramallah suburb of Beitunia in the early hours of Thursday.

Israeli media said an elite unit of undercover commandos stormed a building, killing a 25-year-old member of the Palestinian Preventative Security Service.

Four other Palestinians from Mr Arafat's Force 17 guards were arrested before troops withdrew a short time later.

Palestinian sources said at least 12 Palestinians were detained when troops raided Nablus also on Thursday morning.

US 'pleased'

The US welcomed the Palestinian leader's pledge to pursue reforms and offered to help.

"I'm pleased that Chairman Arafat is speaking in these terms and we stand ready to help with this process," said US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

But, he said, "we can help, we can encourage, we can press them, we can contribute to it, but it is something that has to come from within if it is to be real and if it is going to stick".

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Mr Arafat told him he planned to hold elections by the autumn.

See also:

16 May 02 | Middle East
Israeli forces return to Ramallah
15 May 02 | Middle East
Arafat commits to Palestinian reform
10 May 02 | Middle East
Rebuilding the Palestinian Authority
14 May 02 | Middle East
Sharon demands Palestinian reforms
15 May 01 | Middle East
Flashback: Palestine's catastrophe
14 May 02 | Middle East
Rights group criticises settlements
12 May 02 | Middle East
Likud embarrasses Sharon
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