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Arafat Urges Palestinian Lawmakers to Approve New Government

The Palestinian legislature is holding a special session in the West Bank city of Ramallah as lawmakers debate approval of the new government of Prime Minister-designate Mahmoud Abbas. A "yes" vote will pave the way for a resumption of Middle East peace efforts to be presented by the United States in the coming days.

Addressing the lawmakers at the opening session, Palestinian President Yasser Arafat urged them to vote "yes."

Mr. Arafat said this is a sensitive and dangerous time for Arabs and the entire region. He called for the legislature to accept the new Palestinian prime minister and his government.

Then it was Mahmoud Abbas's turn to appeal to lawmakers to endorse his new cabinet and its plans for reform.

The prime minister-designate spoke of the need to establish a modern and democratic government. He said the Palestinian people deserve no less. He also warned his administration would not tolerate anyone breaking the law, and he promised to streamline the security services and end the proliferation of illegal weapons.

Mr. Abbas denounced the use of violence and said terrorism only hurts the Palestinian cause.

He also said there is no military solution to the conflict with Israel. In a message directed to Israelis he said, "we want a lasting peace with you, one achieved through justice and negotiations".

But, Mr. Abbas also repeated long-standing Palestinian demands, including Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the removal of Jewish settlements, a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem, and the right of return for Palestinian exiles and refugees.

Mr. Abbas called for the immediate implementation of the, so-called, roadmap for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, which the Bush Administration has promised to unveil shortly to try to restart peace negotiations. He also rejected Israeli requests for changes to the plan.

The Legislative Council now takes up the debate. It is expected to endorse the incoming prime minister and his new government later in the day.