19 Jan 2011

Israeli defence minister quits party

6:11 am on 19 January 2011

Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak has left the Labour Party, which he's been heading and is setting up a new political grouping to be called Independence.

The breakaway group reportedly includes four other Labour MPs.

The BBC reports the move strengthens Prime Minister Benjamin

Netanyahu's coalition, as it allows Mr Barak's party to remain in government.

Labour is due to vote next month on whether to quit the coalition over Mr Netanyahu's handling of the Mid-East peace process. But Mr Barak's move pre-empts that decision.

Peace talks broke down late last year over Israel's refusal to renew a freeze on Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank.

The BBC reports there have been tensions within the Labour party for months.

Mr Netanyahu's coalition currently has a majority, with 74 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

If Labour's eight remaining members quit the government Mr Netanyahu would have 66 seats in the 120-seat parliament, a smaller but more stable majority.