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Ex-General named Israel's Defense Minister

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March 3, 2001 


TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) The Labor Party on Friday chose as Israel's next defense minister a retired general who warned the Palestinians that he will not tolerate further violence. The party also appointed the first Arab to the nation's Cabinet.

Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, 65, will serve alongside Salah Tarif, a member of the Druse minority who was named minister without portfolio in Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon's coalition government.

In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, four Palestinians died Friday and nine Palestinians were wounded by live fire in confrontations with Israeli troops.

A 9-year-old boy was killed by Israeli soldiers during a gun battle near his home; a 40-year-old man described as mentally handicapped was killed by soldiers who said they saw him planting a bomb; a 23-year-old man was shot dead in a stone-throwing clash; and a 13-year-old boy died of wounds sustained earlier this week.

Two Arab motorists with Israeli license plates were wounded in a shooting ambush at a West Bank gas station, apparently by Palestinian militants. The firing persisted as paramedics tried to evacuate them.

A senior aide to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat accused Israeli troops of stepping up attacks on Palestinians.

``The new Israeli government should restrict the actions of the Israeli army in order to pave the way for peace talks,'' Nabil Aburdeneh said.

The U.S. ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, said the situation could deteriorate.

``The Palestinian economy is on the brink of collapse, the Palestinian Authority is beginning to disintegrate,'' Indyk told a gathering of Israeli business people. ``A state of semi-anarchy and gang-rule is engulfing the West Bank and Gaza. If chaos is loosed upon the land, the likelihood of an escalation of the violence increases, provoking harsher Israeli responses ...''

Ben-Eliezer, who in the 1980s headed the Israeli military government in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, blamed the Palestinians for five months of fighting that has killed 415 people, including 342 Palestinians, 58 Israeli Jews and 15 others.

He said he was a peace pioneer, but regretted that ``the Palestinians upended the (negotiating) table ... and turned to bloodshed.''

``I will do everything to make them (the Palestinians) understand that there are rules in this game, and these rules will be absolutely clear,'' he said. ``There cannot be a situation in which we hear every day of another death and another death.''

Ben-Eliezer was picked for the defense post by Labor's 1,600-member Central Committee, along with seven other Labor legislators who will serve in Sharon's Cabinet. Shimon Peres was chosen as foreign minister.

Tarif, 47, was hoisted in the air by supporters when the results were announced. A lawmaker since 1991, he said he hoped Labor's decision would open a new page in relations between the state and its Arab citizens, who make up 20 percent of the population of more than 6 million.

Ben-Eliezer was an ally of outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Barak and represents the centrist wing in Labor. When the fighting began, Ben-Eliezer advocated breaking off negotiations with the Palestinians. However, Barak continued talks until just before the Feb. 6 elections.

Some Labor activists worried that Ben-Eliezer was too hawkish to serve as a counterweight to Sharon.

``I'm not sure Binyamin Ben-Eliezer will be the left-wing balance the Labor Party is supposed to be in the national unity government,'' said party member Eran Mozel.

Two far-right parties announced Friday they would join Sharon's government. Rehavam Zeevi of the National Union Party, who has advocated the ``transfer'' of Arabs from Israeli-controlled areas, will be tourism minister. The Israel Beiteinu Party picked Avigdor Lieberman who, in a recent interview, said Israel might bomb Iran and Egypt in response to warlike provocations to serve as infrastructure minister.

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