- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 27, 2003

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Yasser Arafat’s Fatah party yesterday put together a new Palestinian Cabinet, replacing a U.S.-backed security chief with an Arafat loyalist and bringing in nearly a dozen new faces from Fatah and smaller factions.

With the ouster of security chief Mohammed Dahlan, it appears even less likely that the Palestinian security forces will begin dismantling militant groups, as required by the U.S.-backed “road map” peace plan. Israel has said it will not move on the plan unless such action is taken.

In the Gaza Strip, about 1,000 Dahlan supporters staged a protest, burning pictures of Fatah officials.

The Cabinet formation came a day after a Palestinian gunman sneaked into a Jewish West Bank settlement where residents were celebrating the start of the Jewish New Year, knocked on the door of a trailer home and shot and killed a man and a baby girl.

It was the first deadly attack by Palestinians since Israel’s security Cabinet decided Sept. 11 to remove Mr. Arafat. Israel has not said when it would take action against the Palestinian leader, but it is believed the trigger could be a major Palestinian terror attack with many Israeli casualties.

Israel and the United States have been trying to sideline Mr. Arafat, accusing him of encouraging terror attacks and blocking peace efforts. However, Mr. Arafat retains significant power, and the incoming Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qureia, has given the Arafat-controlled Fatah movement considerable say in forming the Cabinet.

Fatah leaders yesterday named 23 ministers of the Cabinet. The remaining one to three slots will be filled in coming days, and the Cabinet then will be presented to the Palestinian parliament for approval, the officials said.

In a reflection of Mr. Arafat’s sway over the process, a longtime ally, Maj. Gen. Nasser Yousef, was named to the post of interior minister, putting him in charge of the security forces, Palestinian officials said.

Outgoing Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas had held the title of interior minister in his government, but the security chief in effect was Mr. Dahlan, who enjoyed U.S. support, even though he also backed away from cracking down on militants.

During Mr. Abbas’ four months in office, Mr. Arafat was constantly wrangling with his prime minister over control of the security forces. Mr. Arafat commanded four branches, and Mr. Abbas — as interior minister — had control over the other four.

Under the new arrangement, Mr. Arafat heads a 12-member national security council that will set policy and work with the interior minister. Gen. Yousef has worked with Mr. Arafat for nearly four decades.

Several Arafat supporters, including Yasser Abed Rabbo and Saeb Erekat, were brought back into the Cabinet, after Mr. Abbas kept them out of his government.

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