- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 28, 2003

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Yasser Arafat yesterday asked Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia to stay on the job and form a new government by next week, officials said. The move could give a small lift to a troubled U.S.-backed peace plan.

Mr. Qureia, whose one-month term as head of an emergency Cabinet ends Nov. 4, said he hasn’t received a formal offer yet, but would accept once he receives it.

The United States and other international mediators have been closely watching Palestinian efforts to form a government, saying a stable Palestinian leadership is needed to push the “road map” peace plan forward. Still, yesterday’s announcement failed to resolve the sticky issue of overseeing the Palestinian security forces.

Mr. Qureia’s previous efforts to form a larger government have failed because of wrangling over appointments. In particular, Mr. Qureia was unable to agree with Mr. Arafat over the key post of interior minister, which would control the various Palestinian security agencies.

In new violence, undercover Israeli troops killed a fugitive Palestinian militant in a West Bank refugee camp, witnesses said. Ibrahim al-Naneesh, 37, was a member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a militant group loosely linked to Mr. Arafat’s Fatah faction.

Shortly after the incident, a second militant opened fire, the army said. Soldiers fired back and hit him. The wounded militant was taken to a hospital in Tulkarm.

The developments came as Israel held local elections in which Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Likud party was expected to lose several key mayorships.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Foreign Ministry summoned a senior Swiss diplomat Monday to protest Switzerland’s backing for an informal Middle East peace plan reached by former Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, Foreign Ministry spokesman Jonathan Peled said yesterday.

Switzerland’s acting head of mission, Claude Altermatt, said he stressed during the meeting that Switzerland had only been a facilitator and that the negotiators were responsible for the final document.

Nonetheless, Mr. Altermatt said his government would support the formal launch of the document at a ceremony next month.

The Geneva agreement envisions a Palestinian state in 98 percent of the West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip, lands Israel occupied in the 1967 Six-day War. In return, Palestinian refugees — who fled or were forced to flee their homes during the 1948 Middle East war — would largely be blocked from returning to what is Israel today.

Mr. Sharon has expressed his opposition to the accord.

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