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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Palestinians Seek Elections, Reform

JERUSALEM/RAMALLAH, West Bank -- The Palestinian parliament demanded Thursday that general elections be held within a year, legislators drafting reform proposals aimed at overhauling the Palestinian Authority said.

The legislators also called on Palestinian President Yasser Arafat to appoint a new Cabinet within 45 days.

A senior adviser to Arafat responded saying the Palestinian leader had decided to hold parliamentary and presidential elections within six months.

"President Arafat has set a program for reform and changes," said Abdel Rahman, the secretary general of the Palestinian Cabinet. "The core of the changes will be conducting general elections in a period that will not exceed four to six months."

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon urged the United States and other nations to appoint an interim Palestinian government that would be in office for a year and carry out sweeping reforms, a senior adviser confirmed Thursday.

Sharon proposed that the new government be established even against the Palestinians' wishes, Israel's Yediot Ahronot daily reported Thursday. "The free world must force this government on the Palestinians," the daily quoted him as saying.

The prime minister's foreign policy adviser, Danny Ayalon, confirmed that Sharon brought up the idea of an interim Palestinian government in recent talks with foreign leaders, including senior U.S. officials.

Asked whether Sharon wants to see an interim government established over the objections of Arafat, Ayalon said: "It [the Palestinian Authority] certainly has to be forced out, and it doesn't look like they are going out voluntarily."

Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi said Sharon's attitude was racist and patronizing, and that his demands for Palestinian reform were a pretext for avoiding peace talks. "Palestinian reform is not the business of Sharon," she said.

In a meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House last week, Sharon proposed Arafat be sidelined and given a symbolic position devoid of authority.

Bush rebuffed Sharon at the time, saying Israel would have to find a way to keep working with Arafat, since he is the Palestinians' elected leader.

However, the Bush administration and the European Union have begun pushing for democratic reforms in the corruption-riddled Palestinian Authority.

Also Thursday, Israeli troops raided two districts in the Palestinian city of Ramallah. A Palestinian security officer was killed and at least four people were arrested in the West Bank city during the brief raid by Israeli tanks and troops, a Palestinian security source said.

The army has returned to a tactic of raids, which it says are aimed at arresting "terrorists" involved in attacks on Israelis during the 19-month Palestinian uprising.

The Israeli army on Wednesday said it had blown up a tunnel dug out by Palestinians to smuggle weapons and people between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. The army said the passage, equipped with power and telephone lines and a trolley, was 250 meters long and its entrance was hidden under a civilian house in the Rafah refugee camp.

(Reuters, AP)