Sharon averted what may have been a humiliating defeat by rebellious ministers on Friday, by backing away from an immediate confrontation.

The vote threatened to bring down his coalition government.

Political sources said the vote, originally set for Sunday, had been delayed indefinitely while Sharon battled to overcome fierce opposition from cabinet members belonging to his rightist Likud party.

Sharon had decided earlier on a showdown over his US-backed plan to evacuate all Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and some from the West Bank, despite his party's rejection
of the proposal in a 2 May referendum.

'No support'

Sources say Sharon realised he could not muster a majority in his fractious 23-member cabinet.

"Sharon will only present his plan (on Sunday) and will start the debate," the source said.

No immediate comment was available from Israeli government officials on Friday night, the Jewish sabbath.
 
On Thursday, Sharon offered a trimmed-down version of his plan for "disengagement" from conflict with Palestinians that would mean quitting just three of 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza, while "taking note" of his original scheme for a total pullout.

But after Likud hardliner Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - Sharon's powerful rival - rebuffed the compromise, he opted to go for broke in a move typical of the hardnosed former general widely known as "The Bulldozer".

The Israeli newspaper Maariv said earlier on its website that Sharon was considering dismissing Netanyahu.