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Dispute delays naming of new Palestinian government

JERUSALEM — The newly appointed Palestinian prime minister delayed naming his government Wednesday because of a dispute with Yasser Arafat over who should be in charge of the region's security forces.

Prime minister-designate Mahmoud Abbas' delay came as five Palestinians, including a 16-year-old boy, were killed during clashes with Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip. The two events were not related.

The choice for the post of interior minister could determine the credibility of a new government, which Western mediators and Israel hope will crack down on Palestinian militants.

Abbas favors former Gaza strongman Mohammed Dahlan, who also is backed by international mediators and is seen as likely to try to rein in militants.

Arafat wants to retain his longtime aide Hani al-Hassan, who has served as interior minister for months but has made no serious move toward reforms, officials have said.

Forming the new Cabinet is a condition for the publication of a U.S.-backed "road map" to Palestinian statehood. Arafat said a new Cabinet likely would be named by Saturday, despite the extension.

Abbas asked Arafat on Wednesday for a two-week extension and Arafat agreed, said Arafat aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh. Abbas had been expected to name the Cabinet on Thursday.

In an apparent reflection of the incoming premier's positive image, Abbas and Arafat met Wednesday with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, the first senior government minister to visit Arafat since Israel destroyed most of his compound last year.

Israel had urged Fischer not to meet with the Palestinian leader. Israel and the United States have refused to meet with Arafat, charging that he is implicated in terrorism.

Fischer said Germany supported the road map, which calls for statehood by 2005 and was developed several months ago by the so-called "Quartet" of the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

Clashes, meanwhile, erupted on Wednesday in Gaza, leaving at least five Palestinians dead.

Israeli troops shot and killed a member of the Islamic militant group Hamas, a policeman, a security guard and a teenager, witnesses said. A fifth man died later in a hospital, doctors said. At least 10 people were wounded in the clashes.

Also Wednesday, thousands poured into the streets of Gaza City for the funerals of the seven people, including a top Hamas commander, killed in an Israeli missile strike Tuesday. The coffins were covered in green Hamas flags. Angry mourners shouted "God is great! Revenge, revenge!" Some fired guns into the air.

Israeli security sources said the target of Tuesday's airstrike was Saed Arabeed, 38, a senior Hamas commander responsible for a series of deadly raids against Israelis over the past decade.

In a separate incident, an explosion in a West Bank high school injured at least 29 students Wednesday. At least four of the students were seriously wounded.

A student at the school in Jaba, a village outside the West Bank city of Jenin, was playing with the explosive device before it exploded, police said. Palestinian police checked the shrapnel and said the device was Israeli-made and bore Hebrew lettering, Ershade said.

An Israeli army spokesman said on condition of anonymity that the army rarely conducts military operations in Jaba and it was doubtful that soldiers would have left an explosive device behind.