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Israel: Netanyahu signs deal with coalition partners


Israeli's leading political parties have signed a coalition agreement after weeks of wrangling. Premier Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing alliance is to lead a broad power grouping that includes centrists and nationalists.

The deal, in which two new parties agreed to support Netanyahu's Likud-Beiteinu alliance, was confirmed by the prime minister's office on Friday.

Both the centrist Yesh Atid party and the pro-settler Jewish Home party had signed up to the deal, a statement said.

"The prime minister welcomes the coalition agreements that have been signed…We will work together in the new government for the sake of Israel's citizens. We will act to strengthen Israel's security and to improve the quality of life for the citizens of Israel."

The statement added that the Netanyahu (pictured left) would formally tell President Shimon Peres that he had "completed the task of forming a government" on Saturday evening.

Four parties in all form the coalition - the smallest being the centrist HaTnuah, or "Movement," faction - led by former Foreign Minister Tzipni Livni, which agreed to join the coalition last month.

Wrangle over ministries

Talks had been mired in disagreement over the distribution of cabinet portfolios and reforms to the military draft law suggested by both Yesh Atid and Jewish Home.

The coalition deal marks a change in that it excludes Netanyahu's natural ultra-Orthodox allies, Shas and United Torah Judaism. Both of those parties oppose the proposed army draft changes that would compel ultra-Orthodox Jews to serve in the military.

Netanyahu's Likud-Beiteinu won 31 out of 120 seats in January elections, making it the largest single party in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. The coalition would give him 68 seats, a clear majority in the assembly.

Yesh Atid, led by former television anchor Yair Lapid (pictured right), was the surprise package of the poll, winning 19 seats. Lapid is to become Israel's new finance minister under the terms of the coalition deal.

Jewish Home, headed by rising political star, Naftali Bennet, picked up 12 seats, while Livni's relatively doveish HaTnuah won six seats.

rc/pfd (AP, AFP,dpa, Reuters)

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