At the same time premier Ahmad Quraya called for a new ceasefire and voiced commitment to the road map.

Speaking to parliament on Wednesday, Arafat stressed the need for dialogue to put an end to the cycle of violence in the Middle East.

"We do not deny the right of the Israeli people to live in security side-by-side with the Palestinian people living in their own independent state," Arafat told lawmakers convened in the West Bank city of Ram Allah.

"The time has come for us to get out of this spiral, this destructive war, that will not bring security to you or us," he pointed out to the deputies set to vote for the new cabinet.

But Israel has dismissed Arafat's comments as insincere.

"You cannot hold an olive branch in one hand and a ticking bomb in the other," said Dore Gold, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Israel accuses Araffat of fomenting a three-year-old Palestinian uprising, a charge he denies.

Threats

Arafat, who has been shunned by Israel, accused the country of waging a "criminal war" against the Intifada and of threatening his life. 

"I am telling you and the entire world that my life is threatened day and night by the Israeli government but my life is no more important than that of any Palestinian child," said the Palestinian leader.

"My life is threatened day and night by the Israeli government"

Yasir Araffat, Palestinian leader

The Israeli government has pledged to "remove" 74-year-old Arafat, but has not said how or when it might take action. With US backing, Israel has tried to sideline the Palestinian president, accusing him of fomenting violence, an allegation he denies.     

The 'apartheid wall'

Arafat also slammed the separation barrier being erected in the West Bank which he described as "a new Berlin Wall". 

Apartheid barrier deprives
Palestinian people of their land 
 

The barrier was "depriving our people of their land, their rights an independent state and sacred Jerusalem," Araffat said. 

A  new United Nations report said on Tuesday the barrier, which Israel says is designed solely to keep out Palestinian resistance fighters, would lead to severe humanitarian consequences for more than 680,000 Palestinians. 

Only 11% of the route of the barrier conforms to the
"Green Line", the boundary between Israel and the West Bank, said the survey by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). 

The Palestinians regard what they describe as the "apartheid
wall" as an attempt to pre-empt the borders of any future two-state settlement and seize their most fertile land. 

Truce

Taking the floor after Arafat, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmad Quraya urged parliament to seek an end to armed "chaos" in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as part of efforts to put peacemaking with Israel back on track.

PM  calls for an end of armed
'chaos' in Palestinian territories

"It is not acceptable to any of us to see the chaos of weapons and shelling among the public," Quraya told the deputies.

"I extend my hand to you with sincerity in order to begin
serious and prompt action for a mutual ceasefire to halt the
bloodshed and stop violence," said Quraya.

Quraya also called for an international conference to work out a final peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.

"We call upon the parties to the conflict, mainly the Quartet, to hold an international conference under their supervision to attain a final solution to the conflict based on the vision of President Bush with two states."

Commitment to peace

"We urge the Israeli government to withdraw its forces from
our cities and villages"

Ahmad Quraya, Palestinian PM 

Quraya also voiced his commitment to the US-backed peace plan known as the "road map".

"Our strategic choice is to stick to peace, to the road map and to agreements signed with Israel," he said, seeking a vote of confidence for his new government.

The road map, which was drawn up by the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States and launched in June, has made little progress amid the continuing violence between the Israelis and Palestinians.

The prime minister also announced a general election to be held by June 2004 as part of efforts to restore order in the Palestinian territories.

"We urge the Israeli government to withdraw its forces from
our cities and villages so we can carry out fair and free
elections," said the premier adding that elections should be held "no later than June". 

Backing Quraya

Sharon, who is keen to be seen to be assisting Quraya, announced on Tuesday that he had ordered an easing of restrictions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. 

Israel says it is ready to give
Quraya chance to prove himself

And one of his senior advisers said on Wednesday Israel was ready to refrain from launching massive military operations in the Palestinian territories to give Quraya a chance to prove himself.

"The Israeli government is ready to limit itself to selective raids to thwart attacks," Zalman Shoval told AFP.

"We want to allow Mr Quraya the opportunity to prove he can reduce the level of violence and we want to find out if his plan for a ceasefire can lead to the dismantling of the terrorist organisations."