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Arafat Formally Installs Emergency Cabinet - 2003-10-07

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat formally installed his emergency cabinet Tuesday. The cabinet, which is to serve for a maximum of two months, is headed by new Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, who is facing calls by Israel and the United States to halt Palestinian terrorism.

Palestinian officials gathered in the West Bank city of Ramallah for the swearing in of Mr. Qureia and his eight-member emergency cabinet.

Two of the ministers did not show up for the ceremony with Palestinian officials, saying there is still a dispute over the scope of their powers.

One of them is Nasser Yousef, the interior minister, who will be responsible for some of the security forces.

Despite the internal wrangling, Mr. Qureia expressed some optimism about the path ahead for his new government. He says he hopes to start negotiations with Israel on a possible ceasefire to end more than three years of bloodshed.

At the same time, he ruled out taking strong action against armed Palestinian groups, despite appeals from Israel and the U.S. administration.

Observers say Mr. Arafat, who declared a state of emergency on Sunday, wanted the new government brought in now in the hope that this might prevent Israel from moving against him.

Palestinian officials feared that Israel might attempt to send Mr. Arafat into exile in the wake of a Palestinian suicide bombing in Haifa on Saturday that killed at least 19 people.

The Israeli cabinet declared last month it had decided to remove Mr. Arafat at a time of its choosing, following twin suicide bombings in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

In response to the Haifa bombing, Israel has refrained from carrying out its threat against Mr. Arafat. Instead, Israel has opted for retaliation against the Islamic Jihad, the group which said it carried out the attack.

On Monday, Israel arrested 31 members of the organization in the West Bank city of Jenin.

The Islamic Jihad has made Jenin one of its strongholds of support and a center for the recruitment of suicide bombers, including the Palestinian woman who blew up the restaurant in the Israeli port city of Haifa on Saturday.