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Sharon survives coalition crisis

Jerusalem, Nov. 4 (Reuters): Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon survived a no-confidence vote in parliament today, allowing him to press ahead with efforts to shore up his minority government with far-right coalition partners.

Parliament voted down three no-confidence motions brought by left-wing and other opposition parties that could have toppled the government and led to new elections.

The Knesset voted minutes after a suspected Palestinian suicide bomber exploded inside a shopping mall in central Israel, killing at least one other person and wounding 15.

The no-confidence motions were followed by a 69-39 vote approving Sharon’s appointment of hawkish former Israeli army chief Shaul Mofaz as defence minister. Mofaz, who led Israel’s military crackdown against a two-year-old Palestinian uprising against occupation, was sworn into office immediately afterwards.

Sharon was updated with details of the attack while in the Assembly as lawmakers were finishing up their debate on the measures. “Mr Speaker, we are summing up the debate in the heavy atmosphere of a new attack in Kfar Saba,” Cabinet minister Danny Naveh of Sharon’s right-wing Likud party told the Assembly at the end of the debate.

“This is a new reminder that we are still facing a war of criminal Palestinian terror,” he said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

Israeli security guards with metal detectors are posted at shopping malls, restaurants and cafes and search the bags of customers before allowing them to enter.

Sharon had been widely expected to survive the vote after the far-right National Union-Yisrael Beitenu party said it would abstain while in the midst of coalition talks with the prime minister.

Israel was plunged into political crisis last week after the centre-left Labour Party bolted the government in a state budget dispute over funding for Jewish settlements built on occupied land where Palestinians want to establish a state.

Sharon could have no choice but to call a new election should he fail to add the seven legislators of National Union-Yisrael Beitenu to the 55 seats he currently controls in the 120-member parliament.

Palestinians have voiced alarm at the prospect that an Israeli government dominated by hawks like Mofaz and ultranationalists would employ even harsher tactics against their uprising for statehood.

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