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April 10, 2003

Naming of Palestinian government delayed; Israeli troops kill five Palestinians, witnesses say

AP article combines some topical reporting of most recent events
JERUSALEM (AP) -- The newly appointed Palestinian prime minister delayed naming his government Wednesday because of a dispute with Yasser Arafat over who should be in charge of the region's security forces.

Prime minister-designate Mahmoud Abbas' delay came amid renewed violence, as five Palestinians, including a 16-year-old boy, were killed during clashes with Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip.

On Thursday, two Israelis were killed in a shooting attack near the settlement of Bekaot in the northern West Bank, the army said. Soldiers fatally shot the two gunmen, who apparently were Palestinians, military officials said on condition of anonymity. Another eight Israelis were wounded in the attack.

Meanwhile, an Israeli court sentenced a Palestinian to 12 years in prison Wednesday for helping in the assassination of an Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi in 2001. Salah Alawi, 23, was convicted of driving one of the attackers from the West Bank and hosting three of the gunmen in his house after the assassination.

The choice for the post of interior minister could determine the credibility of a new government, which Western mediators and Israel hope will crack down on Palestinian militants.

Abbas favors former Gaza strongman Mohammed Dahlan, who also is backed by international mediators and is seen as likely to try to rein in militants.

Arafat wants to retain his longtime aide Hani al-Hassan, who has served as interior minister for months but has made no serious move toward reforms, officials have said.

Forming the new Cabinet is a condition for the publication of a U.S.-backed "road map" to Palestinian statehood. Arafat said a new Cabinet likely would be named by Saturday, despite the extension.

Abbas asked Arafat on Wednesday for a two-week extension and Arafat agreed, said Arafat aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh. Abbas had been expected to name the Cabinet on Thursday.

In an apparent reflection of the incoming premier's positive image, Abbas and Arafat met Wednesday with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, the first senior government minister to visit Arafat since Israel destroyed most of his compound last year.

Israel had urged Fischer not to meet with the Palestinian leader. Israel and the United States have refused to meet with Arafat, charging that he is implicated in terrorism.

Fischer said Germany supported the road map, which calls for statehood by 2005 and was developed several months ago by the so-called "Quartet" of the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

Clashes, meanwhile, erupted on Wednesday in Gaza, leaving at least five Palestinians dead.

Israeli troops shot and killed a member of the Islamic militant group Hamas, a policeman, a security guard and a teenager, witnesses said. A fifth man died later in a hospital, doctors said. At least 10 people were wounded in the clashes.

The Israeli army commander in the area said soldiers encountered a cell of five or six armed men near a rocket launcher and fired on them, killing the Hamas member. The officer, who gave his name only as Col. Yoel, said he was unaware of the other deaths.

Also Wednesday, thousands poured into the streets of Gaza City for the funerals of the seven people, including a top Hamas commander, killed in an Israeli missile strike Tuesday. The coffins were covered in green Hamas flags. Angry mourners shouted "God is great! Revenge, revenge!" Some fired guns into the air.

Israeli security sources said the target of Tuesday's airstrike was Saed Arabeed, 38, a senior Hamas commander responsible for a series of deadly raids against Israelis over the past decade. [more]