RAMALLAH, West Bank Israeli troops moved into the West Bank town of Ramallah early today, hours after Yasser Arafat named a new, streamlined Cabinet and hours before Israel's prime minister was to meet President Bush in Washington.
Israel Radio reported that the forces entered the Palestinian leader's compound in Ramallah, completing the destruction of three buildings in the compound that were hit Thursday during an Israeli operation.
The Israeli military denied the reports. The army spokesman's office said Israeli soldiers surrounded Arafat's city-block-sized compound to prevent gunmen from escaping there, but did not enter.
On Thursday, Israeli tanks crashed through the outer wall of Arafat's compound and blew up three buildings, after a Palestinian suicide bomb attack that killed 17 Israelis.
The latest incursion began about 4 a.m. (8 p.m. CDT Wednesday). Soldiers moved among houses around the Amari refugee camp, next to Ramallah, entering one house as two trucks parked outside. Troops also moved through the suburb of Beituniyah, witnesses said.
Also on Sunday, Arafat named a new Cabinet that includes a new minister to oversee the security forces. The move followed strong calls for reform by ordinary Palestinians and Western governments.
Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said that presidential and parliamentary elections will be held in January and municipal elections this fall.
Arafat slimmed down his Cabinet from 31 to 21 ministers, and brought in several new faces. "It will be a smaller, more effective Cabinet," said Nabil Shaath, planning minister in both the old and new Cabinet.
In the most important change, Arafat named Abdel Razak Yehiyeh, 73, as interior minister a position that "will be responsible for all the security issues inside the Palestinian territories (and) supervise all the security establishments," according to Abed Rabbo.
Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer reacted skeptically to the naming of Yehiyeh, saying it signified that Arafat was not serious about reform.
"This man represents the very old generation. So once again we have a commitment to the past and not to the future," Ben-Eliezer said.