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Monday, 8 April, 2002, 17:15 GMT 18:15 UK
Sharon strengthens coalition
The Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, during his special address to the Israeli Parliament
Sharon is defying US pressure to pull troops out
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By Caroline Hawley
BBC correspondent in Jerusalem

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has announced he is bringing two new parties into his coalition, including a right-wing religious party.

Mr Sharon not only talked tough in his special address to the Israeli parliament - he has also now acted to ensure continued support for his hardline policies.

Palestinian youths in Gaza City demonstrate in solidarity with Yasser Arafat and against Israel's occupation of the West Bank
Thousands of Palestinians protested against Sharon's policies

The move means that Mr Sharon's government is now secure, because by bringing in the National Religious party and the Gesher party, he no longer needs Labor, which has threatened to quit the coalition several times over the past 18 months of conflict.

One of Mr Sharon's three new ministers is particularly controversial.

Effi Eitam, the new head of the National Religious party, is an ultra-hardline former army general, who has openly expressed the wish that Palestinians in the West Bank would be transferred to Jordan.

Clear message

A prominent Israeli analyst said Ariel Sharon's political moves were a clear message to both the Palestinians and the international community that he was toughening the right-wing ideology of his government.

An Arab member of the Knesset told the BBC he was now even more fearful for the future.

The inclusion of the National Religious Party in the government has also sparked new calls for members of the Labor party to leave.

But there is no sign that the Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, or the Defence Minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, are ready yet to walk away.

See also:

08 Apr 02 | Middle East
Sharon unmoved by US pressure
08 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israelis back Sharon
08 Apr 02 | Middle East
Sharon speech to Knesset - Excerpts
08 Apr 02 | Middle East
Powell's peace mission begins
08 Apr 02 | Middle East
Bethlehem siege sparks church fury
08 Apr 02 | Middle East
UN Security Council's growing anger
27 Feb 01 | Middle East
Sharon moves to form government
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