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Palestinian Officials Try Break Cabinet Deadlock - 2003-04-20

Palestinian officials are trying to end an impasse that is delaying the formation of a new cabinet, the first step toward a resumption of peace talks and eventual establishment of a Palestinian state.

The delay in the formation of a new Palestinian Cabinet is the result of a dispute between the prime minister-designate, Mahmoud Abbas, and President Yasser Arafat.

Palestinian officials said Mr. Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen, stormed out of talks Saturday, after Mr. Arafat blocked his choice for a key Cabinet post.

The two men have given themselves until Wednesday to agree on the make-up of a new Palestinian government, which the United States said is a pre-condition for publishing details of a new peace plan.

The plan, a so-called "road map" for peace as laid out by Washington, envisages the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2005. It is also supported by Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.

Mr. Abbas is at odds with the Palestinian president over the appointment of a former security chief in Gaza, Mohammed Dahlan, as internal affairs minister.

Mr. Arafat wants Hani al-Hassan, a longtime supporter, to continue to head the ministry, which is responsible for the Palestinian security services.

Palestinian officials are urging the two leaders to agree to another round of talks to try to resolve their dispute. Senior officials of the U.S. administration are also sending messages of encouragement to Mr. Abbas, telling him to resist pressure from Mr. Arafat on appointments to the Palestinian Cabinet, Israel media reported Sunday.

The United States is encouraging Mr. Abbas to begin a new era without interference from Mr. Arafat, who it wants to see moved to the sidelines.

Mr. Abbas is seen by the U.S. administration as a moderate. He has denounced violence by Palestinian militants, which he said has set back efforts to establish a state through negotiations.