Sharon loses majority as far-right ministers quit

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The Independent Online

Two extreme right-wing ministers deprived Ariel Sharon of his guaranteed parliamentary majority yesterday when they resigned in the first political backlash against this week's cabinet acceptance of his plan to disengage from Gaza.

Two extreme right-wing ministers deprived Ariel Sharon of his guaranteed parliamentary majority yesterday when they resigned in the first political backlash against this week's cabinet acceptance of his plan to disengage from Gaza.

Effi Eitam, the National Religious Party leader and cabinet minister, who walked out of the coalition with Yitzhak Levy, an NRP deputy minister, called on his party to "unify and act against this government and against this terrible decision".

Both men made it clear they now regarded themselves as free to vote according to their consciences. This means that Mr Sharon is now technically presiding over a minority administration, with his coalition support in the Knesset down to 59 members out of 120.

Although the move weakens the coalition - as well as splitting the NRP - and increases the likelihood of Mr Sharon forming a national unity government with Labour, it stops short of a crisis. Labour has withheld its support from no confidence votes designed to bring down Mr Sharon.

The government is preparing generous compensation for Jewish Gaza settlers while shutting off jobs for 4,000 Palestinians by closing the Erez industrial zone just inside Gaza.

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