JERUSALEM (AP) – The Palestinian parliament created the post of prime minister yesterday, taking a major step toward U.S.-sought reforms and rebuffing Yasser Arafat’s attempts to retain a say in forming the next Cabinet.
In the West Bank, Israeli forces killed two top Hamas fugitives accused in a string of shootings and bombings that killed dozens of Israelis. In a separate incident, an 11-year-old boy attending a Gaza funeral was shot and critically injured.
The gunbattles came as Palestinian legislators cast their ballots in a watershed vote that signaled a further weakening of Arafat’s influence – a process that began about a year ago amid growing dissatisfaction among Palestinians with his leadership.
“It’s the beginning of a transition – it is certainly a turning point and a qualitative shift in the political culture,” said legislator Hanan Ashrawi. “Now we have power-sharing that is clearly spelled out.”
Arafat has been wrangling with the increasingly assertive parliament over giving some of his sweeping powers to a prime minister but reluctantly agreed to create the new position under international pressure. Even with the reforms, however, Arafat will retain control over security forces and peace talks with Israel.