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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 August, 2004, 08:03 GMT 09:03 UK
Israeli PM defies party rebellion
Israeli PM Ariel Sharon
Mr Sharon is deep in battle with his own party
Israel's prime minister has vowed to press on with his disengagement plan, despite its receiving another rejection from his mutinous Likud party.

Likud's central committee ruled out a coalition with Labour, which backs his plan to pull settlers and troops out of Gaza, in a vote on Wednesday night.

"The PM will find a solution to the problem," his office said on Thursday.

Ariel Sharon was jeered by delegates shortly before the ballot, in which 58% of members rejected a coalition.

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There is no other option but to call an early election
Shiri, Israel

This is turning into a long, testing battle for Mr Sharon, the political equivalent of hand-to-hand fighting, says the BBC's Jon Leyne in Jerusalem.

Some aides have hinted that Mr Sharon may resort to early elections.

In a separate development, the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has also rebuffed a fresh challenge to his authority, refusing to sign an anti-corruption bill demanded by lawmakers.

Mr Arafat told pro-reformist MPs that a speech he made on Wednesday promising reform "was enough and that there is no need for any signatures", according to one MP.

Rowdy

In Wednesday's rowdy special meeting of Likud's central committee, the Israeli leader insisted there was no alternative to his plans and warned his opponents against starting a civil war within Likud.

Pull-out from all 21 settlements in Gaza and 4 in West Bank
Preparation period to end by March 2005
Four-stage evacuation to be completed by end of 2005
Cabinet votes on each stage
An alternative motion which would have authorised him to negotiate with "any Zionist party" (ie any party excluding Israeli Arab parties) was also defeated, by a slender 19 votes.

But the votes are non-binding and Mr Sharon's office insisted he would continue with efforts to "try to build a stable coalition government".

Likud rejected Mr Sharon's disengagement plan in May and Mr Sharon lost his parliamentary majority in June.

Labour strongly favours Mr Sharon's plans, which envisage the withdrawal of all of Israel's 7,000 settlers and the troops that protect them from Gaza but continuing to exercise control over Gaza's borders, coastline and airspace.

Four isolated settlements in the northern West Bank would also be evacuated.

Some aides have suggested Mr Sharon could now call elections - which are not scheduled to take place until 2006 - within the next six months.


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