RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) – The Palestinian parliament approved Yasser Arafat’s new Cabinet yesterday, effectively ending a challenge to the Palestinian leader that began last month with demands he share power.

The 56-18 vote came as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon faced the most serious political crisis of his 20 months in power, with the moderate Labor party poised to quit his coalition. A senior legislator allied with Sharon said yesterday he believed snap elections were inevitable. Naming a new Cabinet was a key reform measure expected of the Palestinians in a new U.S.-backed peace plan. During a debate before the vote yesterday, Arafat critics provoked Arafat’s anger by saying that there are not enough new faces in the 19-member Cabinet, and that some of those suspected of corruption remain in their posts.

“I don’t think this Cabinet can lead the Palestinians out of the crisis,” said legislator Ziad Abu Amr. Arafat tried to silence him, shouting: “You are not allowed to talk about the members of the executive committee, you are not allowed.”

However, after a solid majority of legislators voted in support of the Cabinet, Arafat said he was proud of what he called a display of Palestinian democracy. Palestinian state TV, which had broadcast part of the proceedings live, did not show the heated debate before the vote.

The new Cabinet presented by Arafat includes only four new ministers. The most important appointment was that of a new interior minister, Hani al-Hassan, a senior member of Arafat’s Fatah movement. The interior minister will oversee the Palestinian security services.

Last month, rebellious legislators from Arafat’s Fatah movement forced Arafat’s Cabinet to resign in what was seen as the most serious challenge in his eight years at the helm of the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinian lawmakers demanding reforms said they suffered a setback because of Israel’s 10-day siege of Arafat’s headquarters – launched after a deadly Oct. 21 suicide bombing in Israel.

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