Sharon, whose coalition holds 68 seats in the 120-member parliament, was able to muster only a few more votes than the opposition on Monday after his pro-settler coalition partners abstained in protest at his Gaza initiative. 

The vote, called by a group of leftist, religious and Arab Israeli parties, went ahead despite the right-wing prime minister's absence from parliament to undergo treatment for removal of urinary stones. 

Sharon's voting support was reduced by the abstention of two pro-settler coalition parties angered by his announcement last week of a plan to evacuate 17 settlements in the Gaza Strip. 

Disengagement

Sharon's disclosure, his most specific comments so far on a
"disengagement" strategy he intends to impose on the
Palestinians if a US-backed "road map" fails, has threatened
the stability of his ruling coalition. 

In a series of confidence motions pinned mostly to complaints about the government's austerity budget, Sharon's coalition won 47-45, 47-45, 48-45 and 47-43. An absolute majority of 61 votes would have been needed to topple the government. 

One pro-settler party has threatened to leave the government if Sharon, once considered the godfather of the settlement
movement, starts to implement the plan. Sharon has vowed to forge a new government if necessary. 

It was the second time in a week that Sharon has survived a
confidence vote.