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Thursday, 13 June, 2002, 18:02 GMT 19:02 UK
Arafat calls new cabinet together
Arafat chairs cabinet meeting
The streamlined cabinet is an attempt to restore credibility
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has opened the first cabinet meeting after a major reorganisation and streamlining of his Palestinian administration.

At the start of proceedings, Mr Arafat announced: "As soon as possible, we must prepare for the local elections as well as presidential and legislative elections."

He declared that the government must "quickly put in place and carry out plans that would bring back the ministries and institutions to make us more effective in carrying out our tasks."

Israeli Prime Minister Sharon and American President Bush at White House press briefing
Israel and the US have aligned themselves against Arafat's measures
The new cabinet, with several porfolios either merged or eliminated, contains five new faces who were sworn after Mr Arafat's speech.

The changes are part of sweeping reforms to the Palestinian Authority demanded by the United States and Israel, but both have greeted the new cabinet with suspicion.

The meeting had been delayed for three days because, after the reshuffle was announced, the Israeli army reoccupied the West Bank's administrative capital, Ramallah, and besieged Mr Arafat's headquarters.

Palestinian bulldozers have been clearing up Mr Arafat's Muqattaa compound in Ramallah which has been left in ruins by successive Israeli incursions, including a five-week army siege which was lifted on May 1.

Changes

The new cabinet, which was announced on Sunday, cuts the number of cabinet posts from 31 to 21.

A seven-member ministerial committee has been formed to draft an action plan for the new government and to prepare proposals for municipal, legislative and presidential elections.

The committee includes Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo, Local Government Minister Saeb Erekat, Planning and International Co-operation Minister Nabil Shaath, Minister of Economy, Industry and Trade Maher Al-Masri and Tourism Minister Nabil Qassis.

Palestinian man clears up in Arafat's compound
Arafat's compound is in need of reconstruction
New ministers Salam Fayyad (Ministry of Finance), Ibrahim Dughmeh (Justice) and Abdul Razzaq al-Yahia, who takes over the interior portfolio from Mr Arafat, will also take part.

Respected former general Mr al-Yahia will be responsible for a drastic overhaul of the Palestinian Authority's unwieldy and controversial security branches.

Other changes include the creation of two new ministries, Labour, headed by the well-known academic Ghassan al-Khatib, and Natural Resources, Electricity and Gas, headed by Abdul Rahman Hamad

US visit

US President George W Bush criticised Mr Arafat's efforts to reform his government after meeting Israeli leader Ariel Sharon this week, when he insisted "no one has confidence in the emerging Palestinian Government".

Palestinian officials reacted angrily to the comments, alleging it was the US administration that "could not be trusted", in the words of Information Minister Abed Rabbo.

His colleague Nabil Shaath is now on his way to Washington for talks with Secretary of State Colin Powell and to present the Palestinian position ahead of an expected policy statement on the Middle East from President Bush.


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13 Jun 02 | Middle East
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