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Last Updated: Sunday, 21 September, 2003, 21:17 GMT 22:17 UK
Palestinian PM upbeat over cabinet
Ahmed Qurei (centre), flanked by Palestinian officials
Qurei wants to avoid the fate of his predecessor
The Palestinian prime minister designate, Ahmed Qurei, has been holding talks in Gaza City about the formation of his cabinet.

Mr Qurei, who is also known as Abu Ala, said he was optimistic the Palestinians could demonstrate a united front after the talks in the Gaza Strip with members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and Palestinian political groups.

Mr Qurei, nominated by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to replace Mahmoud Abbas following his resignation, described the talks as useful and said it was an historic moment, but stressed that the meetings were part of an on-going consultation process.

The BBC's correspondent in Gaza City, James Rodgers, says that in the present political climate that will not be easy - the largest Palestinian militant group, Hamas, was not even represented at the meetings.

Hamas leaders are in hiding after Israel launched a series of air strikes against the group in the wake of a suicide bombing in Jerusalem.

Analysts say Mr Qurei has been seeking to cement support from across the board before unveiling his cabinet in a bid to avoid the fate of Abbas who quit after a power struggle with Yasser Arafat.

Confrontation ahead?

"Today's dialogue was useful and important. All our people agreed on the mission. We should work towards it," Mr Qurei said.

"We are still in consultation and dialogue with all brothers from the groups and Palestinian national personalities to agree about the mission which we should take into government," he added.

Masked gunmen from the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades
Israel insists the new government must dismantle the militant groups

Mr Qurei was expected to present his cabinet to the Palestinian Legislative Council for approval in the coming days.

But after the talks he said he still had two weeks to form his government.

"I have another week ahead of me, and according to the law I can obtain an extension of another week," Agence France Presse quoted him as saying.

Media reports have suggested that a new cabinet is likely to include a supporter of Hamas, as well as a moderate favoured by the United States.

But Reuters quoted the two groups saying they would not join a Palestinian administration that would promote a US-backed peace plan.

Head-on confrontation

Our correspondent says the new cabinet will face immediate Israeli demands to dismantle the militant groups, a condition of the Middle East plan, known as the roadmap.

Israel's Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz has said Mr Qurei can prove himself a peace partner only if he starts an immediate crackdown on the militants.

The government of the previous prime minister, Mr Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, never entered into a head-on confrontation with the armed groups, arguing that such a move risked provoking a Palestinian civil war.




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