Peres forms new cabinet

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Jerusalem - Ehud Barak, Israel's former chief of staff, becomes the new Foreign Minister in the government formed yesterday by Shimon Peres, writes Patrick Cockburn. Mr Peres, who does not have a military background, takes over the Defence Ministry and will therefore be responsible for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank.

Immediately after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin on 4 November Mr Peres ruled out a snap election to capitalise on the wave of sympathy for the government and the discrediting of some of its right-wing opponents. Mr Barak was briefly Interior Minister before his promotion yesterday. It was first expected that he would be Defence Minister but his appointment was reported to have been opposed by senior generals and defence ministry officials on the grounds that he had served as chief of staff too recently. His appointment as Foreign Minister is also important because it will give him foreign policy experience which will make him favourite to succeed Mr Peres who is 72.

Mr Peres has moved Yossi Beilin, one of the architects of the Oslo agreement, from Economic Planning into the Prime Minister's office. He has also set up an inner cabinet committee in charge of the peace process. This will include Mr Beilin; Haim Ramon, a Labour rebel who had been running the Histadrut trade union federation and who now becomes Interior Minister; Moshe Shahal, the Police Minister; and Yossi Sarid, the Environment Minister.

Mr Shahal, a powerful and popular minister, will take over as acting prime minister when Peres is out of the country.

Mr Peres has also tried to hold out a hand to religious Jews who are not committed to the right by appointing Yehuda Amital, who runs a college at Gush Etzion, as minister without portfolio.

Mr Peres is taking a gamble by making himself Defence Minister. This means that he will have to shoulder the blame if there are problems in the withdrawal of troops from the West Bank under the Oslo agreement.