JERUSALEM, Jan 28: Israel appointed its first Muslim minister on Sunday, a step which, he said, would help its Arab citizens identify more strongly with the state.

“The first step has been taken and this has given Israeli Arabs a feeling of belonging,” Galeb Magadla told Army Radio after the cabinet ratified his appointment as a minister without portfolio.

Mr Magadla had been nominated by the Labour Party for a ministerial post after one of its members quit the cabinet in protest at the addition of the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu faction to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s coalition government in October.

“I see this as a historic and important step towards equality and promoting peace in the region,” Amir Peretz, Israel’s Defence Minister and Labour Party chief, said at the cabinet meeting, according to YNet news web site.

YNet said Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beitenu was the only cabinet member to vote against the appointment.

Political sources said the appointment could be the opening move in a possible cabinet reshuffle in the coming week.

The shake-up, the sources said, could enable Mr Olmert to offer a variety of posts to coalition partners in return for their support to

Vice-Prime Minister Shimon Peres’s bid to become the country’s next president.—Reuters

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