In a bout of political brinkmanship, parliament on Monday first rejected all three Sharon loyalists in a single package but then granted approval to Ehud Olmert as finance minister by a 71-41 margin when the prime minister re-submitted his nomination for a separate vote.

Earlier, parliament rejected by 60-54 votes Sharon's cabinet appointments. Several Likud members voted against the nominations.

Divided party

The vote reflected the deep divisions in the ruling Likud Party and raises the likelihood that the country could be headed for early elections.

Israeli parliament confirmed
Ehud Olmert  by 71-41 votes

Disgruntled Likud hard-liners, still angry over Sharon's September pullout from the Gaza Strip, objected to his plan to promote loyalists in what they said was a political payoff.

"There will be consequences," Sharon said after the vote. He did not elaborate, and called an emergency meeting of Cabinet ministers to discuss how to proceed.

Sharon had asked parliament to confirm acting Finance Minister Ehud Olmert to the treasury post, and appoint two other supporters to the trade and immigrant-absorption portfolios. He submitted the three nominations to a single vote in an "all or nothing" package.

Sharon, whose term is set to expire in November 2006, has said he opposes early elections. But aides concede he may have no choice.