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Ariel Sharon and Israel’s new Labor Party chief agreed to hold early elections. In a brief meeting Thursday, the Israeli prime minister and Amir Peretz decided to bring forward elections, currently scheduled for November 2006, to February or March. The date is expected to be set Monday, when Sharon faces no-confidence motions from opposition factions in the Knesset. Since ousting Shimon Peres as Labor chief in an internal vote earlier this month, Peretz has made clear that he intends to take Labor out of Sharon’s governing coalition. Buoyed by polls showing that his popularity is still strong, Sharon decided to accept early elections rather than fight to keep his government together. “We must ensure that 2006 does not become a lost year with regard to the peace process and efforts to reach an accord with the Palestinians,” he explained in an interview with Yediot Achronot.

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