Palestinian legislators are meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah to approve the new cabinet of Prime Minister designate, Mahmoud Abbas. The vote is a crucial step to resuming Middle East peace efforts, but just hours before the session, violence continued on the ground with two Palestinians killed in the West Bank and one killed in the Gaza Strip.
The special legislative session began around midday local time with lawmakers set to confirm the first Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, and his new cabinet.
The vote is a crucial one because it is to trigger a resumption of Middle East peace efforts. Once the new government is confirmed, the Bush Administration has promised to release its "road map" - designed to end more than two and a half years of Israeli-Palestinian violence, bring both parties back to the negotiating table to work out a peace agreement and to bring about an independent Palestinian state by 2005.
Mr. Abbas has spoken out against the use of violence in the Palestinian uprising and drive for statehood. Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazzen, has stood alongside Yasser Arafat in the Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization for some four decades. Yet, Washington is hailing him as the new face of the Palestinian leadership and one they feel they can do business with.
Israeli leaders have also said they believe Mr. Abbas is a man they can work with. But Israel has also warned that his new government must make an all-out effort to stop attacks against Israel if the road map is to have any chance of success.
Just hours before Palestinian legislators gathered in Ramallah, Israeli troops killed two suspected Palestinian militants during a security sweep in a West Bank village near Bethlehem. In the Gaza Strip, an Israeli helicopter fired several missiles at a car traveling near the city of Khan Younis, killing a suspected militant and injuring bystanders.