RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) -- In a speech to the Palestinian parliament Monday, Yasser Arafat condemned terror attacks on Israeli civilians, announced elections for early January and offered -- apparently in jest -- to give up executive powers.
The rambling speech was the Palestinian leader's first to the legislative council in 18 months. His lower lip quivering, Arafat repeatedly fumbled with the microphones and strayed from the text, launching into asides that were sometimes incomprehensible.
Speaking just hours after 60 Israeli tanks encircled three Gaza refugee camps and blew up the home of a suspected militant, Arafat gave an address that was both conciliatory and packed with accusations against Israel. He skipped over some passages of an earlier draft, including one that called on parliament to ban suicide attacks.
Israeli banned 12 legislators from making the trip from Gaza to the West Bank town of Ramallah, saying they were involved in attacks on Israelis. In solidarity, other Gazan lawmakers stayed behind and participated by video conference.
Several Palestinian legislators complained that Arafat had failed to present his new Cabinet -- the result of a June reshuffle -- to parliament for approval, and that he had not set a specific election date, as legislators had demanded.
When Arafat mentioned that presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections would be held in January, one of the legislators shouted: "What is needed is a presidential decree with a specific date."
The vote on the Cabinet was to have been an important test of Arafat's standing, and it was not clear whether he commands a majority in the 88-seat legislature. Several lawmakers have said they would withhold approval.
The legislature was to reconvene Tuesday.
The Palestinian leader has been weakened in recent months, with the United States shunning him and Israel trying to sideline him. Since a major Israeli military offensive that began in March, he has been largely confined to his Ramallah headquarters.
Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said the speech was meaningless and that Palestinian reform would not work with Arafat in power.
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