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World - Middle East

Barak takes helm, launches Israel on course for peace

Barak presents his government to the Knesset

Mideast peace

Watch Barak's speech to Israel's parliament
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CNN's Jerrold Kessel reports on Barak's first political setback. (July 5)
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CNN's Jerrold Kessel reports on how Israel's new leader is building his government (July 5)
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July 6, 1999
Web posted at: 3:20 p.m. EDT (1920 GMT)

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Fifty days after voters rejected the hard-line policies of Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party in favor of a center-left coalition, former army chief Ehud Barak took the oath of office as Israel's new prime minister.

In a parliamentary speech before the swearing in, Barak declared that a resolution to decades of conflict in the Middle East was his top priority.

"I call on all regional leaders to take our outstretched hand and to make a peace of the brave in the area," he said during the speech.

"The supreme goal will be to bring peace to the Israeli people," said Barak, so that "mothers can sleep peacefully" in Israel.

He said that peace would not come unless it was based on four pillars -- peace with Egypt, with Jordan, with Syria and Lebanon, and with the Palestinians. Israel has signed peace accords with Egypt and with Jordan, leaving two remaining steps to a lasting peace in the region, Barak said.

"These two assignments together -- the reaching of a permanent agreement with the Palestinians and the achieving of peace with Syria and Lebanon -- are equally vital and urgent in my eyes," he said.

Initial Palestinian response to Barak's speech was positive.

Netanyahu, in his last parliamentary address as prime minister, resigned his Knesset membership in a speech that lasted less than three minutes.

New PM will ask for more ministers

Barak presented his cabinet, pieced together with representatives of seven parties, to a Knesset with nearly two-thirds of its membership signed on to the new prime minister's coalition. He said he would soon ask lawmakers to make room for more ministers due to the size of his coalition.

After Barak's speech, the Knesset debated and voted on Barak's choices, which were handily approval.

Earlier, the Labor Party's candidate for speaker of the Knesset, lawmaker Avraham Burg, was overwhelmingly approved by the members of parliament. Burg, however, was not Barak's choice for the post -- Labor leaders rejected relatively unknown politician Shalom Simchon in favor of Burg, who once called Barak's leadership "dictatorial."

Correspondent Jerrold Kessel contributed to this report.

Barak ready to assume office
July 5, 1999
Barak tells Arafat he'll follow in Rabin's footsteps
July 2, 1999
Centrist party to join Barak coalition
July 1, 1999
Israeli's Barak forges coalition to restart peace process
June 30, 1999
Possibility of Sharon in Israeli Cabinet sparks unease among Palestinians
June 23, 1999

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