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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Arafat Chooses New Cabinet, Extends Olive Branch

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, under pressure to reform his Palestinian Authority, announced a new Cabinet on Tuesday and said he was extending an olive branch to Israel.

In his speech announcing the Cabinet before the legislative council, Arafat said the Palestinians' rejection of Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip did not mean they objected to Israel's existence.

"So here we extend our hand to you in reconciliation and we extend the olive branch to resume the path that we began in Madrid and Oslo," Arafat said, referring to venues for peace talks that led to a historic 1993 interim accord with Israel.

There were four new faces in the Cabinet, which was reduced from 21 to 19 members, said officials in Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah.

Arafat's previous cabinet quit last month to avert a likely no-confidence vote in the reform-minded Palestinian Legislative Council, or parliament, which has criticized his administration amid a two-year-old uprising for independence.

The new Cabinet will serve until presidential and legislative elections on Jan. 20, 2003.

Saeb Erekat, the Palestinians' chief peace negotiator, said the Cabinet's program "is based on reform."

The United States and Israel have called for Palestinian democratic and security reforms along with a new leadership, which U.S. President George W. Bush has said must be "uncompromised by terror."

Palestinian critics have sought a domestic overhaul to root out corruption.

Arafat named four new ministers to the health, interior, justice and prisoners' affairs posts as well as the appointment of a Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee official who was given a portfolio at ministerial level.

Most of the appointments were given to senior members of Arafat's mainstream Fatah movement from Gaza.

Hani al-Hasan, 65, was named as the new interior minister. He will oversee the reorganization of the Palestinian security forces.

Zuhair al-Surani, 67, was named justice minister.

Al-Surani is known as a veteran independent jurist who previously served as the Palestinian Authority's attorney general.

The health portfolio went to Ahmed al-Shibi, 57, a Fatah lawmaker and doctor from Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip.

Hisham Abdel-Razek, minister of prisoners' affairs, is a resident of the Jabalya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip and a senior Fatah leader who has spent several years in Israeli jails.

Arafat also abolished four ministries -- civil affairs, youth and sports, Jerusalem affairs and telecommunications.