Palestinian P.M. Agrees To Stay

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, 2003/10/8
AP
Yasser Arafat has asked Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia to form a new government by next week, the Palestinian foreign minister said Tuesday, and Qureia accepted.

Meanwhile, Israel's defense minister is warning that Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas are planning a big attack along Israel's northern border, while a top army general threatened to use "very, very strong force" against the group if it carries out more cross-border raids.

Also Tuesday, the Israeli Foreign Ministry summoned a senior Swiss diplomat to protest Switzerland's backing for an informal Mideast peace plan reached by former Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.

Qureia currently heads an emergency Cabinet whose term expires Nov. 4. There had been some uncertainty over whether Qureia, upset by arguments with Arafat over control of the security forces, would agree to continue in the job.

"Abu Ala [Qureia] has been asked once again to form the new government," foreign minister Nabil Shaath told reporters after a meeting of the PLO leadership.

"The plan is to have this government ready" by the time the term of the emergency Cabinet expires, Shaath said. "We do not want any more time wasted."

Qureia's previous efforts to form a larger government have failed because of wrangling over appointments.

The Palestinian prime minister Tuesday said efforts are underway to reach a cease-fire involving militant groups and Israel. Israel dismissed the truce talks.

Qureia has spoken at least once in recent days with Khaled Mashaal, the Hamas leader in Syria, a Palestinian source said.

The new truce would replace one declared unilaterally by militants June 29. It lasted about six weeks before collapsing in a spate of Palestinian bombings and Israeli retaliation.

This time, Israel would have to be a party to the cease-fire, Qureia said. "If there is no mutual commitment, then there is no meaning to a cease-fire," he told a news conference in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told reporters in Jerusalem that the failed truce was a fraud to begin with.

"Extremists took advantage of this period of time in order to dig more tunnels, to smuggle more weapons, to train their activists in their training camps and to make tests in order to extend the range of their missiles," he said.

The warning about Israel's northern border came a day after Hezbollah fired artillery shells at Israeli positions in a disputed border area, Chebaa Farms, lightly wounding an Israeli soldier. Israel retaliated with air strikes and its own artillery shelling. Monday's shelling was the first by Hezbollah in two months.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said the artillery strike was a preview to a bigger attack by Hezbollah.

"We have a very, very deep understanding that on the northern border they are planning a more significant attack than artillery and anti-tank fire at Israeli soldiers," Mofaz said during a tour of an industrial area along the Israel-Gaza border.

"The (army's) northern command is prepared for this," he added.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Jonathan Peled said Switzerland's acting head of mission, Claude Altermatt, was summoned on Monday. Peled said Israeli officials expressed "misgivings about the Swiss involvement in promoting" the peace plan.

Altermatt said he stressed during the meeting that Switzerland had only been a facilitator and that the negotiators were responsible for the final document.

"Switzerland just provided a frame and gave money to push activities toward a peace solution here in the Middle East, where a very complex conflict is under way," he said.

And in the West Bank, Israeli settlers announced a new tactic for protecting their homes from Palestinian militants: pigs. The Gdud Haivri organization, which supplies guard dogs to West Bank settlements, said it plans on using pigs as well.

The group's chief, Yekutiel Ben-Yaakov, told Israeli media that pigs have a great sense of smell and can be trained to identify weapons. He also noted that pigs might be a deterrent because they are impure under Islamic law.

Jewish religious law also considers the animals impure and forbids raising them in Israel. However, local rabbinical authorities approved the initiative because it would save Jewish lives.