Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon has resigned as leader of the right-wing Likud party which he helped set up in 1973, and has announced that he is setting up a new party, reported to be called 'National Responsibility'.
It comes after he asked the country's president Moshe Katsav to dissolve the Israeli parliament and call early elections. The president revealed after their meeting on Monday morning that Sharon had told him he had reached the conclusion it was impossible for him to continue as prime minister with the current Knesset.
Under Israeli law, President Katsav now has 21 days to decide on whether to dissolve the Knesset and call early elections, but he said he would make the decision quickly, in a matter of "less than days". "Of course, I think we need to dissolve the Knesset and hold elections as soon as possible," he said.
The law also states that elections must be held within 90 days, putting them by the beginning of March.
According to Haaretz, early elections would work in Sharon's favour, as it would stop Likud putting the vote off until a later date when the novelty of the new party would have worn off.
On Sunday the Labour Party confirmed that it would withdraw from the coalition government Sharon leads, thereby causing it to collapse.
Likud officials said Sharon decided to leave Likud over the weekend. As well as Mofaz, those expected to compete for the leadership of the party are Knesset MPs Benjamin Netanyahu, Yisrael Katz and Uzi Landau - leader of the so-called Likud rebels, as well as education minister Limor Livnat and foreign minister Silvan Shalom.
Sharon's controversial decision to pull out of the Gaza Strip and some West Bank settlements earlier this year upset many of the hardliners within the Likud Party, AKI reports.
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