RAMALLAH, West Bank – Yasser Arafat's (search) Fatah party on Saturday put together a new Palestinian Cabinet (search), replacing a U.S.-backed security chief with an Arafat loyalist and bringing in nearly a dozen new faces from Fatah and smaller factions.
With the ouster of security chief Mohammed Dahlan (search), it appears even less likely that the Palestinian security forces will begin dismantling militant groups, as required by the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan. Israel has said it will not move on the plan unless such action is taken.
In the Gaza Strip (search), about 1,000 Dahlan supporters staged a protest, burning pictures of Fatah officials.
The Cabinet formation came a day after a Palestinian gunman sneaked into a Jewish West Bank settlement where residents were celebrating the start of the Jewish New Year, knocked on the door of a trailer home and shot and killed a man and a baby girl.
It was the first deadly attack by Palestinians since Israel's security Cabinet decided Sept. 11 to remove Arafat. Israel has not said when it would take action against the Palestinian leader, but it is believed the trigger could be a major Palestinian terror attack with many Israeli casualties.
Israel and the United States have been trying to sideline Arafat, accusing him of encouraging terror attacks and blocking peace efforts. However, Arafat retains significant power, and the incoming Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qureia (search), has given the Arafat-controlled Fatah movement considerable say in forming the Cabinet.
On Saturday, Fatah leaders named 23 ministers of the Cabinet. The remaining one to three slots will be filled in coming days, and the Cabinet then will be presented to the Palestinian parliament for approval, the officials said.
In a reflection of Arafat's sway over the process, a longtime ally, Maj. Gen. Nasser Yousef, was named to the post of interior minister, putting him in charge of the security forces, Palestinian officials said.
Outgoing Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas had held the title of interior minister in his government, but the security chief in effect was Dahlan, who enjoyed U.S. support, even though he also backed away from cracking down on militants.
During Abbas' four months in office, Arafat was constantly wrangling with his prime minister over control of the security forces. Arafat commanded four branches, and Abbas — as interior minister — had control over the other four.
The split paralyzed Abbas and made it impossible for him to take any action against the militants, even largely symbolic moves that might have been considered by Washington as partial implementation of the road map. Abbas, like other Palestinian officials, has said he would not confront the militants, for fear of sparking internal fighting.
Under the new arrangement, Arafat heads a 12-member national security council that will set policy and work with the interior minister. Yousef has worked with Arafat for nearly four decades.
Several Arafat supporters, including Yasser Abed Rabbo and Saeb Erekat, were brought back into the Cabinet, after Abbas kept them out of his government.
Two ministers with international support, Nabil Shaath and Salam Fayad, kept their jobs as foreign and finance ministers, respectively. Fatah named several younger leaders to the Cabinet. Several smaller factions were also represented, though major opposition groups, particularly the Islamic militant Hamas, stuck to their refusal to join the Palestinian Authority.
Israel has said it would not deal with an Arafat-controlled Cabinet. However, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in an interview Friday with the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot that Qureia will be judged on his deeds.
Though there was no claim of responsibility for Friday's shooting in Negahot, Israeli government officials blamed the Palestinian Authority for not stopping such violence.
"We have information that the Palestinian Authority has not been doing anything in the last few days to deter these terrorist organizations from carrying out their atrocities during the religious holidays," said Avi Pazner, an Israeli government spokesman.
Around 9 p.m. Friday, soon after the start of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year holiday, the Palestinian armed with an M-16 slipped into Negahot, where about religious 30 families live in houses and trailer homes on two barren hilltops — one fenced in, the other not, said Capt. Jacob Dallal, an Israeli army spokesman. The attacker knocked on the door of a trailer home on the unfenced hilltop and shot a 30-year-old guest who answered and the 7-month-old girl.
Soldiers guarding the settlement near the West Bank city of Hebron killed the attacker before he could escape, Dallal said. The girl's parents were lightly injured in the shooting.
"It's no coincidence that this attack was planned for this hour, the night of the Jewish New Year," Dallal said. "Clearly the people behind the attack knew they could find families at home during the holiday dinner."
Several attacks have been carried out during Jewish holidays in the past three years, most notably the March 27, 2002, suicide bombing at the Park Hotel in the northern coastal town of Netanya, which killed 29 people as they participated in the ritual Passover meal.
In an effort to prevent a repeat of such incidents, Israel stepped up security during the two-day holiday that ends at sundown Sunday.
Palestinians were banned from entering Israel and under a tightened travel ban in most of the West Bank, Palestinians were barred from leaving their communities. Thousands of police officers were also sent to guard synagogues, parks and intersections in Israel.