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Israel's Sharon Suffers Defeat in Parliament

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has suffered a humiliating defeat in parliament. Mr. Sharon is facing a rebellion in his own party.

The Knesset, Israel's parliament, gave Ariel Sharon an embarrassing slap in the face, by voting down his nomination of two new Cabinet ministers.

Rebels from the Prime Minister's ruling Likud Party led the charge. They want to punish him for pulling out of the Gaza Strip last summer and dismantling 21 Jewish settlements there. The rebels accuse Mr. Sharon of betraying traditional Likud ideology, which supports settlement in all the biblical land of Israel.

Likud parliamentarian Uzi Landau is one of the most vocal opponents of the Gaza pullout and the Cabinet nominations.

"Today, simply we have to block this continued attempt by the prime minister to go into those appointments, which are yet a further step towards corrupting the political system of Israel," he said.

Mr. Sharon is promising revenge. He has warned the rebels that if they make it impossible for him to govern, he could call early elections that would topple the Likud from power. Riding a wave of popular support from the Gaza pullout, the prime minister has hinted that he could leave the Likud and form a moderate centrist party. Polls show that such a party would win big in elections.

But bolting the Likud is not a good option, says Israel Television commentator Dan Dyker.

"Sharon's power comes from the Likud," he said. "It is a very big risk for him to leave the Likud."

That gives the Likud rebels leverage to achieve their goals. They want the Gaza pullout to haunt Mr. Sharon for his remaining year in office.