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Monday, 4 November, 2002, 18:29 GMT
Sharon survives no-confidence votes
Ariel Sharon
Sharon survived his first crucial test since Labor's departure
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has narrowly survived three no-confidence motions which threatened to bring down his fragile government.

Opposition parties failed to muster enough support from Knesset (parliament) members after the ultra-nationalist National Union-Yisrael Beitenu Party abstained from voting.

The Knesset also approved the appointment of former Israeli army chief Shaul Mofaz as the new defence minister following the resignation of former defence minister and Labor leader, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, last week.

The votes came shortly after an explosion rocked a shopping centre near the Israeli city of Tel Aviv.

The blast happened in the town of Kfar Saba, close to the West Bank, just after 1825 local time (1615 GMT).

Reports say a suicide bomber and two Israelis were killed and at least 20 other people were injured.

Israeli Government spokesman Avi Pazner said the Palestinian Authority bore a "heavy responsibility" for the attack.

Earlier a member of the militant Palestinian group Hamas and another person were killed in an explosion in a car in the Palestinian city of Nablus.

Witnesses said an Israeli aircraft was hovering overhead at the time of the blast, suggesting the explosion was caused by remote control.

Five other Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops in separate incidents in the past 24 hours.

First hurdle

The BBC's Jeremy Cooke says that by surviving these no confidence votes, Mr Sharon may have bought himself some much needed time and room to manoeuvre.

Tabled by the left-wing Meretz Party, the votes were the first crucial test for Mr Sharon's slimmed-down government since the Labor Party quit in a row over funding for Jewish settlers.

Labor's withdrawal left Mr Sharon dependent on the tacit support of the seven-seat strong National Union-Yisrael Beitenu to survive.

Mr Sharon has been courting the party to join his beleaguered coalition, but it has set almost unacceptable conditions.

Binyamin Netanyahu
Netanyahu would rather be prime minister than foreign minister

Hours before the Knesset voted, Mr Sharon rejected Likud Party rival Binyamin Netanyahu's call for early elections as a condition for joining Mr Sharon's Government as foreign minister.

"Taking the nation to immediate elections would be irresponsible," Mr Sharon told party members.

Correspondents say Mr Netanyahu, a former prime minister who lost office in 1999, would rather take over from Mr Sharon than be his subordinate.

The Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has warned that the two-year-old Palestinian intifada (uprising) could worsen if the Israeli Government becomes more right-wing.

General Mofaz and Mr Netanyahu have both called for Mr Arafat's expulsion from the Palestinian territories.

Chart showing membership of the Knesset

The BBC's Matt Prodger
"He owes his success to the parties of the far right"

Key stories




See also:

04 Nov 02 | Middle East
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31 Oct 02 | Media reports
30 Oct 02 | Middle East
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