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Olmert fills out cabinet ahead of Israeli election | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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JERUSALEM,(Reuters) – Interim Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert filled out his cabinet on Wednesday, appointing members from his centrist Kadima party to top posts two weeks after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was incapacitated by a stroke.

In the most high-profile appointment ahead of a March 28 Israeli election, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, widely seen in Israel as a rising political star, became foreign minister, replacing the Likud’s Silvan Shalom.

The appointments, replacing ministers from the right-wing Likud who resigned over the weekend, were a further sign that Israeli politics were returning to business as usual after Sharon’s massive stroke on Jan. 4.

The changes in the caretaker government were not expected to have any significant impact on Israeli policy, which Olmert said on Tuesday would follow a line set by Sharon before the 77-year-old leader was incapacitated.

Sharon remains in critical but stable condition in a Jerusalem hospital. He underwent a surgical procedure overnight to change a malfunctioning respiratory pipe.

Gearing up for the national ballot, the centre-left Labour party led by trade unionist Amir Peretz held a primary election to choose its list of parliamentary candidates.

The top candidates included several veteran politicians, an academic and a number of generals.

Opinion polls predict that Kadima, which Sharon established after bolting the right-wing Likud in November, will easily win the election with Olmert, 60, at its head.

Sharon founded the centrist party after a far-right rebellion in Likud over a Gaza pullout completed in September.

Olmert, a former mayor of Jerusalem, served as Sharon’s deputy in the cabinet and was a strong supporter of the unilateral withdrawal of Israeli settlers and soldiers from Gaza, a pullout that boosted hopes for Middle East peace.

In addition to Livni, Olmert appointed Zeev Boim as housing and reconstruction minister, as well as agriculture minister; Roni Bar-On as science and infrastructure minister; and Yaakov Edri as health minister and minister in charge of developing the Negev and Galilee regions.

Tourism Minister Avraham Hirchson also received the communications post and Transport Minister Meir Sheetrit added education to his portfolio. Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra assumed the added role of environmental affairs minister.

Olmert retained control over five ministries: the prime minister’s office, interior, treasury, industry and welfare.