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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sharon Approaches Labor Party

JERUSALEM -- Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has approached the opposition Labor Party with a tentative offer to join his shaky coalition, in hopes of avoiding early elections and saving his Gaza withdrawal plan, Labor officials said Tuesday.

The contacts were Sharon's latest attempt to extricate himself from an ongoing coalition crisis over the 2005 state budget and his plan to pull out of Gaza and four West Bank settlements next year.

Sharon lost a parliamentary majority in the summer, when hawkish supporters quit over the Gaza plan. His troubles grew this week when the secular-rights Shinui Party, his biggest coalition partner, threatened to pull out of the government over budget concessions to religious parties.

A first budget vote is set for Wednesday, and Shinui said it would vote against the spending plan. Voting "no" would mean Shinui is quitting the coalition.

The daily Yediot Ahronot on Tuesday quoted Sharon as saying that "if Shinui leaves the coalition on Wednesday, I will immediately turn to Labor with an offer to join the coalition."

Sharon's Likud Party has already sent out feelers to Labor, a Labor official said Tuesday on condition of anonymity.

Senior officials in both parties suggested in radio interviews Tuesday that a partnership is possible. Hard-liners in Likud had resisted a coalition of Likud, Shinui and Labor, considering it too secular and too removed from Likud's traditional supporters.