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Hard Line Party Leaves Sharon Government

A right-wing political party has announced it is leaving the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The hard-line National Union party decided to leave Mr. Sharon's coalition government after Israeli troops pulled back from two Palestinian neighborhoods in the West Bank city of Hebron.

The party is a patron of the Jewish settlement movement. Settlers in Hebron opposed the withdrawal because Palestinian gunmen have used the communities to fire on settlements in the center of the city.

Party leader Avigdor Lieberman says the faction also quit to protest what it perceives as U.S. pressure on Israel to make conciliatory gestures to the Palestinians.

The departure of the National Union party did not rob Mr. Sharon of his majority in the parliament.

But analysts say the defection serves as a warning that the coalition government could begin to unravel if Mr. Sharon resumes peace talks with the Palestinians.

The prime minister may now have to rely increasingly on his largest coalition partner, the center-left Labor Party, which could cause him additional problems with his traditional supporters, who oppose making concessions to the Palestinians.