Rebellious Fatah Legislators OK New Cabinet

Rebellious Fatah lawmakers on Wednesday accepted a Cabinet made up mostly of new faces after Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (search), wielding unexpected political clout, called them together and told them not to provoke a crisis.

Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (search) has been trying all week to install a new Cabinet. Lawmakers objected to his first list because it was stacked with political cronies of the late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat (search).

A second lineup dominated by professional appointments didn't mollify legislators, either. Several said they wanted to push Qureia out and would not support any Cabinet he proposes. Qureia would have to step down if he fails to get his Cabinet approved in coming days.

Abbas summoned legislators from his Fatah party and told them this was no time for a political crisis. "The whole world is watching, and we have a lot to do," Fatah legislator Abdel Karim Abu Salah quoted Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, as telling party lawmakers.

A Palestinian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said 20 of the 24 ministers are new faces. Among those to lose their jobs are Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath and negotiator Saeb Erekat, he said.

A key appointment is ex-general Nasser Yousef as interior minister in charge of security forces.

Fatah is the largest party in the Palestinian parliament, which was to convene Thursday to vote on the Cabinet.

Abbas' forceful display Wednesday came after he did little in recent days to defuse the political crisis. He is still widely perceived as an unassertive politician.

The turmoil underscored the increasingly freewheeling nature of Palestinian politics following Arafat's death last year, with politicians more willing to break party discipline.

Qureia was to appear Wednesday evening before the Fatah bloc, which has demanded that he nominate a Cabinet that excludes the two political old-timers who remain on the list, chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and outgoing Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath. Erekat said earlier Wednesday he did not want to be a minister.

Israel and the United States have long demanded reforms to the corruption-plagued Palestinian Authority, and success in the task is one of the key tests for Abbas.

While the Palestinians were trying to defuse their political crisis, Israeli police worried about a possible attack on a key Jerusalem holy site.

Israeli security officials have warned for months that Jewish extremists might try to attack the shrine — known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram as-Sharif — to inflame Israeli-Arab tensions and sabotage Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to evacuate the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank this summer.

Police Chief Moshe Karadi asked for an additional $14 million to hire 187 more officers to help protect the site from attack, the parliament's Finance Committee said in a statement.

Control over the holy site is one of the most contentious issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and any attack would reverberate worldwide.

Vice Premier Shimon Peres, meanwhile, appealed to the Israeli government to sell businesses like greenhouses in Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip to the Palestinians, rather than destroy them.

Israel plans to evacuate all 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza and four in the West Bank this summer. The government still hasn't decided whether to leave settlers' homes and businesses intact after the pullout, or to demolish them.

"We are interested that the peace to come will be not only political, but also economic," Peres told a government committee coordinating the economic and civilian aspects of the withdrawal. "If the day after we leave Gaza, hunger and unemployment will grow, the bitterness will mount. And that will undermine to a large degree the possibility for peace."

Advocates of demolishing the buildings say it would spare Israelis the sight of Palestinian flags flying from homes and businesses that once belonged to Israelis.