- The Washington Times - Monday, June 10, 2002

RAMALLAH, West Bank Israeli troops moved into the West Bank town of Ramallah early today, hours after Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat named a new, streamlined Cabinet and hours before Israel's prime minister was to meet President Bush in Washington.
Israeli military sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the purpose of the latest incursion was to arrest terrorist suspects. At least one Palestinian was killed.
On Thursday Israeli tanks crashed through the outer wall of Mr. Arafat's compound and blew up three buildings. That operation was in retaliation for a Palestinian suicide bomb that killed 17 Israelis.
The latest incursion began around 4 a.m. Soldiers moved among houses around the Amari refugee camp, next to Ramallah, entering one house as two trucks parked outside. Israeli radio reported that Israeli soldiers entered Mr. Arafat's compound. Troops also moved through the suburb of Beituniyah, witnesses said.
Israeli incursions are an almost daily affair. Yesterday, troops entered the town of Tulkarem.
Also yesterday, Mr. Arafat named a new Cabinet that includes a new minister to oversee Palestinian security forces. The move followed strong calls for reform by ordinary Palestinians and Western governments.
Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said presidential and parliamentary elections will be held in January and municipal elections this fall.
Mr. Arafat pared down his Cabinet from 31 to 21 ministers and brought in several new faces. "It will be a smaller, more effective Cabinet," said Nabil Shaath, planning minister in both the old and new Cabinets.
In the most important change, Mr. Arafat named Abdel Razak Yehiyeh, 73, as interior minister a position that "will be responsible for all the security issues inside the Palestinian territories [and] supervise all the security establishments," according to Abed Rabbo.
Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer reacted skeptically to the naming of Mr. Yehiyeh, saying it signified Mr. Arafat was not serious about reform.
"This man represents the very old generation. So once again we have a commitment to the past and not to the future," Mr. Ben-Eliezer said.
CIA Director George Tenet met Mr. Arafat last week at his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah to press for the restructuring of the multiple, overlapping security agencies.
Mr. Yehiyeh, a former guerrilla commander, has not held any high-profile positions recently, and his selection bypasses more prominent figures.
"Most Israelis will remember that this weekend a young Israeli and his pregnant wife were murdered," said Israeli government spokesman Dore Gold, referring to a Palestinian gunfire attack at a Jewish settlement. "Therefore, when they hear about this Cabinet reshuffling, they are going to see mostly smoke and mirrors, and they are not going to be holding their breath."
Dogged by accusations of widespread corruption in his government, Mr. Arafat also named a new finance minister, Salem Fayad. He has worked in Jerusalem for the International Monetary Fund in recent years, and has called for greater financial accountability in the Palestinian government.
Many Palestinians cite new elections as the most important reform. Since the Palestinian Authority was formed in 1994, elections have been held only once, in 1996.
The announcements came on the eve of a sixth White House meeting in about a year between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Mr. Bush, harsh critics of the Palestinian leader.
Mr. Bush also met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak this weekend, part of a flurry of diplomatic contacts aimed at ending 20 months of Mideast violence and restarting peace talks.
Meanwhile, in the Gaza Strip, a powerful explosion rocked the Jebaliya refugee camp early today, destroying one building and damaging nearby homes, witnesses said.
At least 25 persons were injured, including three in critical condition, hospital officials said. Witnesses said the blast came from inside the building, but Palestinian officials would not comment on the cause.
In other developments yesterday, Palestinian police arrested a leader of the militant group Islamic Jihad, which took responsibility for a suicide attack last week in which 17 Israelis were killed.
Sheik Abdullah Shami was arrested in his neighborhood in Gaza City, group officials said. Mr. Arafat's leadership issued orders to arrest Islamic Jihad members after the Wednesday bombing.
In an article in the New York Times on Sunday, Mr. Sharon wrote that Israel was prepared to resume negotiations if Palestinian attacks stop, though he doesn't believe a final settlement could be reached now.
"The only serious option is one based on a long-term interim agreement that sets aside for the future issues that cannot be bridged at present," Mr. Sharon wrote. The Palestinians reject the idea of an interim accord.
Several months ago the Arab League adopted a Saudi proposal for peace with Israel in exchange for a return of all occupied lands.
But Mr. Sharon, citing Israel's security concerns, said Israel would not pull out of all the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which it captured in the 1967 Mideast War, or redivide Jerusalem. "Israel will not return to the vulnerable 1967 armistice lines," he wrote.
The Palestinians want the West Bank and Gaza for their future state, with a capital in east Jerusalem.


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