In a dramatic day for Israeli politics, prime minister Ariel Sharon has quit his right-wing Likud party.
Sharon, who is setting up a new centrist party, visited President Moshe Katsav this morning asking him to dissolve parliament, saying the government could not function in the current climate.
It comes after the centre-left Labour Party said it would withdraw from Sharon’s governing coalition.
Labour had joined forces with the premier to help push through the Gaza withdrawal.
But Labour’s new leader announced plans to leave the government shortly after being elected earlier this month.
By quitting Likud, Sharon is effectively freeing himself from far-right members of the party who opposed the Gaza pullout.
He will remain acting prime minister until early elections are held on March 28.
As Likud members held talks following the announcement, Sharon met allies who will be part of his new party.
In his first public address since quitting Likud, he said the party he plans to form will work to set permanent borders between Israel and the Palestinians but added that he had no further unilateral withdrawal plans.