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Arafat swears in new Palestinian prime minister and Cabinet

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Yasser Arafat swore in new Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and a skeleton emergency Cabinet today in a move likely to make it more difficult for Israel to carry out its threat to "remove" the Palestinian leader.

But not sworn in was the man tapped to take some control over all the Palestinian security forces, Nasser Yousef.

Israel and the United States have demanded centralization of the eight Palestinian security branches under the interior minister — the post responsible for law and order — so they can crack down on militant groups. Arafat has traditionally maintained tight control over many of those forces.

Yousef, a veteran Palestinian military official named to become interior minister, was in Arafat's compound during today's ceremony but was not sworn in. Palestinian sources said Yousef had refused to join the government because he was unhappy Arafat had appointed an emergency Cabinet instead of going through the normal channels. Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath and other Palestinian officials said Yousef would join the Cabinet in the next few days.

Arafat declared a state of emergency in the Palestinian areas and abruptly named the eight-member Cabinet a day after a suicide bombing in the Israeli city of Haifa killed 19 people. The bombing led to new demands for Israel to carry through on its threat to "remove" Arafat.

The emergency government will serve for a month, with a possible one-month extension if two-thirds of Palestinian legislators back the idea. Qureia could also present a full-sized Cabinet to parliament within a month.

Arafat swore in the ministers during a quiet ceremony in his compound in Ramallah. He stood behind a desk as each minister in turn approached, put his hand on the Koran and swore "on the great God to be loyal to the homeland and to preserve the law and the Palestinians' highest interests and to do my duties to the best of my abilities."

Each minister then hugged Arafat, who appeared tired and drawn during the ceremony.

"These circumstances that we go through require us as a people and as a nation to rise to the challenges. May God be with you and help you Abu Ala," Arafat told Qureia, using the new prime minister's nickname.

Arafat then wished the Cabinet the best of luck and success in its work.

In addition to Yousef, Jawad Tibi was also not among the six new ministers. Tibi apparently had trouble traveling from Gaza to Ramallah.

The new government would be presented to the Palestinian parliament as soon as possible, Shaath said.

Qureia, chosen by Arafat last month, had initially planned to present a larger government to parliament for approval later in the week.

However, following the Haifa bombing, Arafat was clearly concerned about possible Israeli action against him.

In installing an emergency Cabinet, Arafat made it more difficult for Israel to move against him. The United States appears willing to give Qureia a chance, and any Israeli action against Arafat could force Qureia's immediate resignation and cause chaos in Palestinian areas.

Speaking after Arafat's announcement Sunday, Qureia said three portfolios in the emergency Cabinet were assigned: Nabil Shaath as foreign minister, Salam Fayad as finance minister and Yousef as interior minister.

Qureia said the other five members of the Cabinet would be Saeb Erekat, the current chief negotiator; Nabil Abu Hummus, the current education minister; Jamal Shobaki, the current minister of local affairs; and two legislators from Arafat's Fatah movement, Abdel Rahman Hamad and Tibi.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Monday, Qureia said he would rapidly push for a truce with Israel, but would not crackdown on Palestinian militant groups as Israel demands.

"We are ready, beginning from tomorrow, to sit with them (the Israelis) to discuss reaching a comprehensive cease-fire," Qureia said.

Qureia said he hoped to impose order in the Palestinian areas and end what he has called the "chaos of weapons," but said he has not yet worked out a security plan.

However, he is adamant there will be no clampdown on militants. "We will not confront, we will not go for a civil war," he said. "It's not in our interest. It's not in the interest of our people, and it's not in the interest of the peace process."

Qureia said he is working to unify the eight security forces under one command, as demanded by the United States. In the past, four of the branches were under Arafat's control and four under Abbas. Wrangling over the security forces helped push Abbas to resign.

Under a new arrangement, a 13-member National Security Council headed by Arafat will set policy, to be carried out by the new interior minister, who will direct all eight branches. Qureia, Yousef and other Cabinet ministers will also serve on the Security Council.

Meanwhile, Israeli operations continued throughout the West Bank and Gaza.

Overnight, the Israeli army arrested 15 militants from the Islamic Jihad group in the town of Jenin and the nearby refugee camp, according to Palestinian officials. The Israeli army said it had arrested 31 suspects in Jenin, including two militants preparing to carry out a suicide bombing.