Stage set for fresh election in Israel

Israeli President Moshe Katsav says Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has asked him to dissolve parliament, setting the stage for a March election.

    Sharon has recruited 14 Likud MPs to a party he plans to float

    Sharon made the request on Monday just hours after he decided to quick the Likud party he helped found in 1973, and to compete in the next election as the leader of a new party.

    Afterwards, Israel Radio reported quoting Sharon that he was forming a new party. "I am resigning from the party and forming a new one," Sharon wrote in a letter to Likud's chairman, the radio said.

    Sharon has already recruited 14 Likud parliamentarians, including five cabinet ministers, to his new party. He is also courting leading figures from the centre-left Labour Party, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Shimon Peres.

    Earlier in the day, Israel Radio reported, and one of Sharon's top advisers Asaf Shariv confirmed, that he had decided to quit Likud and form a new movement.

    Israel Radio had 

    said Sharon, after marathon talks with aides and associates, decided to leave the party and run separately in the next national elections, likely to be moved up from November 2006 to March.

    New party

    The dramatic announcement comes after the Labour party announced it would quit the ruling coalition.

    The 77-year-old former army general helped establish the Likud in the early 1970s and was responsible for breathing new life into the party when he took over the helm in 1999 after then-leader Benjamin Netanyahu lost a general election.

    Confidants say Sharon wants to seize the chance that polls say he has to defeat the left-of-centre Labour party in a snap election.

    Leader Amir Peretz is charting a
    new course for leftwing Labour

    He would then pursue plans to end conflict with the Palestinians without having to battle Likud hardliners who oppose giving up West Bank land.

    Netanyahu is the leading contender to head the disintegrating party which rebelled against Sharon over his policy of unilaterally withdrawing from the Gaza Strip.


     Sunday, the central committee of the leftist Labour Party, encouraged by new leader Amir Peretz, voted overwhelmingly to leave the government.

    The party had originally joined the coalition to help Sharon counter rightist Likud rebels who opposed his withdrawal from the occupied Gaza Strip.


    "Let the revolution begin," said party official Eitan Cabel as he announced the result of the vote in a show of hands.

    Sunday's events were the expected first step in a week that will reshape Israeli politics, thrown into turmoil since union leader Peretz defeated veteran peacemaker Shimon Peres in a surprise Labour leadership vote.

    Several commentators had predicted Sharon would quit.

    "He is liable to set in motion a political migration on a scale that the Israeli political map hasn't witnessed since the state of Israel was founded," wrote Shimon Shiffer in the best-selling Yedioth Ahronoth daily.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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