Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has asked President Moshe Katsav to call an early general election. Mr Katsav made the announcement after talks with Mr Sharon on Monday. The president said he believed the poll should be held "as early as possible".
In a major switch, Mr Sharon is expected to announce he is leaving the governing Likud to form a new party. Aides said he wanted to break with the right-wing of the party, which opposed the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. "The prime minister asked me to dissolve the Knesset as it cannot function properly in its current form," Mr Katsav told reporters after meeting Mr Sharon.
"I am going to hold further consultations today," he added. On Sunday, the Israeli Labour party confirmed it would withdraw from the coalition government led by Mr Sharon, triggering its collapse.
Mr Sharon and Labour leader Amir Peretz are understood to have agreed earlier in the week to bring forward elections from November 2006 to March. Mr Sharon's departure from Likud, if confirmed, would bring about a political realignment of Israeli politics that has been expected for the last two to three years, the BBC's James Reynolds in Jerusalem says.
Mr Sharon hopes to capture the centre ground in the next election and win four more years as prime minister, our correspondent adds. Ariel Sharon helped found the right-wing Likud party in 1973.
But his moves to disengage from Gaza and parts of the West Bank, which was carried out earlier this year, upset many hardliners within the party.
But, while Mr Sharon has lost support in his own party, his policies have won favour with many ordinary Israelis who neither want to negotiate with Palestinians nor rule over them, reports the AP. I.L.