Israel's former army chief-of-staff, Shaul Mofaz, known for advocating tough measures against the Palestinians, has accepted the post of defense minister in the Israeli cabinet. His appointment by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will be put before parliament on Monday.

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is weighing Mr. Sharon's invitation to be foreign minister in a new government. Israeli media reports say Mr. Netanyahu was cool to the offer from his Likud party rival. The two men are to have more talks on Sunday.

Both the Iranian-born General Mofaz and Mr. Netanyahu take a hard-line approach to dealing with the Palestinians and have called for exiling Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Mr. Sharon lost his majority in parliament Wednesday when the center-left Labor Party quit the government in a dispute over spending for Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. The prime minister is trying to form another coalition with small, right-wing parties, but if that effort falls short, he could call new elections.

Palestinian reaction to the Israeli political developments was predictably glum. Reuters quotes chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat as saying Israel appears to be on the verge of installing the most extremist government in its history. He warned that the peace process will pay a heavy price for it.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army arrested at least five suspected Palestinian militants in the West Bank, including two caught with a explosives belt in their car.