Arafat loses role in naming new cabinet

The Palestinian parliament created the post of Prime Minister in a final vote yesterday, taking an important step towards reforms sought by the United States and rebuffing Yasser Arafat's attempts to retain a say in forming the next cabinet.

Legislators cast their ballots in a vote that signalled a further weakening of Mr Arafat's influence – a process that began about a year ago amid growing dissatisfaction among Palestinians with his leadership. One legislator, Hanan Ashrawi, said: "It's the beginning of a transition – it is certainly a turning point and a qualitative shift in the political culture. Now we have power-sharing that is clearly spelt out."

Mr Arafat has been wrangling with the increasingly assertive parliament over giving some of his sweeping powers to a prime minister. The Palestinian President reluctantly agreed to create the new position under international pressure, but even with the reforms he will retain control over security forces and peace talks with Israel.

President George Bush said last week that installing a credible Palestinian prime minister with real powers was a prerequisite for unveiling an American-backed "road-map" to Palestinian statehood.

Before yesterday's session, Mr Arafat dropped a demand to retain a say over appointing cabinet ministers. He now has to sign the legislation, and is likely to offer the job to the number two in the PLO, Mahmoud Abbas, a moderate who has spoken out against the intifada and is favoured for the post by the US and Israel.

¿ Israeli forces killed two Hamas fugitives in the West Bank yesterday. They were accused of several shootings and bombings that killed dozens of Israelis. In Gaza, an 11-year-old boy at a funeral was shot and critically wounded.

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