Sharon waits to appoint ministers

PM now in charge of seven portfolios; will name replacements after December 8.

sharon by exit sign 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
sharon by exit sign 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The cabinet approved the re-appointment of Deputy Interior Minister Ruhama Avraham Sunday, but the six portfolios vacated by Labor ministers will be held by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for at least the next 10 days. That puts Sharon in charge of the interior, science, infrastructure, housing, environment and communications ministries, in addition to social affairs, which he has held since the National Religious Party left the coalition. He will also take charge of the vice prime minister's office, formerly led by Shimon Peres and now renamed the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galilee. All of Peres's people will stay in their current posts. It would take a Knesset decision to disband the office entirely, according to the Prime Minister's Office. Under an agreement reached last week, President Moshe Katsav's approval of Sharon's request to disband the Knesset is set to take effect December 8, which will put a "transitional" government in place until elections are held on March 28. During the transitional period, Sharon, who currently lacks a Knesset majority, will be able to appoint ministers without the legislature's approval. At the following cabinet meeting on December 11, it is expected that Sharon will appoint to the cabinet Kadima deputy ministers Ze'ev Boim and Ya'acov Edri and Kadima faction chairman Ronnie Bar-On. Sharon's associates said that only three new ministers would be appointed and the rest of the portfolios would be spread out among the current Kadima ministers in interim capacities. They said that Sharon had not yet decided whom to appoint to each position. Edri said that he would be happy if he is appointed to a socio-economic portfolio and that he is ready to serve the government wherever Sharon sees fit. Avraham, a Likud deputy minister, automatically had to leave her position when Labor interior minister Ophir Paz-Pines stepped down last week. The shrunken cabinet heard a security assessment indicating that the threat of kidnappings of soldiers and other Hizbullah aggression persists. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said that the soldiers in the north must stay at high alert, and that the Homefront Command must ensure that all necessary protective steps have been taken. He also reported that the security services had received 15 terror warnings and 40 leads about attempted attacks, while international terrorists are also eying Israel. Relating to last week's return of the bodies of three Hizbullah terrorists killed by the IDF while attempting to infiltrate Israel, Mofaz said that Israel has a policy not to use corpses in negotiations. Mofaz also indicated that the Egyptians have improved their patrolling of the Sinai border, and that the Palestinians have slightly stepped up their efforts to fight terror, while more strenuously endeavoring to stamp out anarchy in the territories. Gil Hoffman contributed to this report