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Saturday, 2 November, 2002, 18:26 GMT
Israeli hardliner takes defence job
General Mofaz (Left) addresses Israeli troops
Mofaz has a reputation for adopting harsh tactics
Israel's former army chief, General Shaul Mofaz, has accepted the post of defence minister, the prime minister's office has officially announced.

If the legislature approves his appointment, the hawkish General Mofaz will replace Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, whose Labor Party quit the governing coalition on Wednesday.


Shaul Mofaz tonight notified that he accepts the position of defence minister

Official statement
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon offered him the post on Thursday, prompting warnings from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat that the Mid-East conflict would worsen with a narrow right-wing coalition running Israel.

In a separate move, Mr Sharon is reported to have offered his predecessor and rival for the Likud Party leadership, Binyamin Netanyahu the post of foreign minister.

The two men are expected to hold further talks on Sunday, but Mr Netanyahu has already said he will challenge Mr Sharon in the upcoming Likud leadership election - a move that would deter him taking the cabinet post.

According to Israeli army radio, Mr Netanyahu is urging the prime minister to hold an early general election.

Partners wanted

Senior government officials signalled on Thursday that General Mofaz had accepted Ariel Sharon's offer.

But the first formal announcement from Mr Sharon's office came on Saturday.

Parliament is expected to vote on the appointment on Monday.

Ariel Sharon
Sharon needs coalition partners
Following Labor's withdrawal over a budget row, Mr Sharon has been left with the support of just 55 members of the 120-strong Knesset (parliament).

He has been looking to ultra-nationalist and religious parties to shore up his government.

These parties tend to oppose negotiations with the Palestinians and advocate Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank.

Hard-liner

General Mofaz has a reputation for adopting a harsh line towards the Palestinians and has advocated the expulsion of leader Yasser Arafat.

For the past two years he has been in charge of combating the Palestinian uprising. His tactics have brought increasing criticism from left-wingers and human rights groups.

Under his command, Israeli troops have stepped up targeted assassinations of suspected terrorists, demolitions of their homes and blockades of Palestinian towns and villages.

General Mofaz has accused the Palestinian leadership of "being infected from head to toe with terror".

Mr Arafat said earlier this week that the appointment did not bode well for the peace process and he expected a military escalation against the Palestinians.


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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Barbara Plett
"The Israeli left accused him of being one of the most political army chiefs in Israel's history"

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