Sharon set to join Israeli inner cabinet

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The Independent Online
Ariel Sharon is poised to return to the top leadership of Israel, 15 years after an Israeli government commission held him partly responsible for the massacre of some 800 Palestinians at Sabra and Chatila refugee camps in Beirut during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which he masterminded in 1982.

Mr Sharon, 69, is expected to be chosen as the next Finance Minister as part of a government reshuffle by Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister.

He is demanding that he be included in the small inner cabinet, which makes strategic decisions on negotiations with the Palestinians. Mr Sharon told Israel radio: "I stated [to Mr Netanyahu] in a very clear fashion that I have to be on this team."

The promotion of Mr Sharon, who has been serving as Infrastructure Minister, would move the Israeli cabinet even further to the right and is worrying both the Palestinian leadership and the US. As Finance Minister he will be well positioned to channel money to Jewish settlers in the occupied territories to enable them to expand their settlements.

Another senior member of government condemned for the Sabra and Chatila massacre is Rafael Eitan, the chief of staff during the invasion of Lebanon, who once described the Palestinians as "cockroaches in a bottle," is Agriculture Minister.

The cabinet reshuffle was scheduled to take place after a vote of confidence in the Knesset yesterday which Mr Netanyahu is expected to win after a deal with the Russian immigrant party, Yisrael ba-Aliya.

The debate was conducted with peculiar venom. In his speech Tzahi Hanegbi, the Justice Minister, deliberately mispronounced the name of Ehud Barak, the newly-elected Labour leader, so that it sounded like the Hebrew word for "ran away". This is part of an attempt by the government to discredit Mr Barak, a former chief of staff, who has been accused of leaving the scene of a training accident before all the injured had received medical attention. Mr Netanyahu's coalition appeared safe last night after Yisrael ba-Aliya signed a pact with the government to increase the funds allocated to the immigrants and give it a voice in senior appointments.