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Sharon Wins Party Support on Plans to Bring Labor Party into Government


Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has won the approval of his party's Central Committee to allow talks to bring the opposition Labor Party into his government.

The non-binding vote raises prospects the Israeli leader's controversial disengagement plan will go through and indicates he now be able to avoid having to call new elections.

In the end 62 percent of the votes cast were in support the prime minister's position. Although it was a non-binding measure the result from the 3,000 member strong Central Committee it gives Mr. Sharon the tacit approval to go ahead with his plans and, perhaps more importantly, lets him avoid having to call new elections nearly two years ahead of schedule.

The prime minister fired his main coalition party, the Shinui Party, last week for voting against his 2005 budget leaving him with a slim 40 seats in the 120 seat parliament. With Labor's 22 seats he would have a majority. Although the real likelihood that some of his own Likud party members would not support his disengagement plan means he is likely to try to bring in the religious United Torah Judaism Party with their five seats.

Labor has promised to support the Sharon plan to remove all 21 Jewish settlements from Gaza and four of the 120 in the West Bank. But they are not comfortable with some elements of his budget, especially cuts in social programs.

Meanwhile, a Palestinian militant leader survived an Israeli assassination attempt on Thursday. Jamal Abu Samhadana, head of the Popular Resistance Committees, was lightly wounded and two of his aides were injured when an Israeli missile struck the car they were traveling in as they drove through the Gaza Strip.

It was the first time Israel has targeted a senior Palestinian militant figure since the death of Yasser Arafat on November 11. Israel had said it would restrain its military

operations so long as the situation in Gaza and the West Bank remained calm but it reserved the right to go after what it called, ticking bombs.

The Popular Resistance Committee has been involved in a number of bombings, most of which were aimed at Israeli troops in Gaza.

Interim PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas, the leading candidate to replace Yasser Arafat as Palestinian President, has been trying to persuade militant groups to stop suicide bombings and other attacks on Israelis.