Israel's former right-wing leader Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated Monday that he would stand as prime minister only if the Israeli parliament dissolves and new general elections are held.
His declaration followed a decision by the powerful religious party Shas which said it would vote against a bill calling for early elections, a move that is likely to kill the legislation.
A special election for prime minister is due to be held on February 6 following Prime Minister Ehud Barak's resignation on December 10 -- a ballot Netanyahu is currently excluded from as he is not an MP.
The Israeli parliament on Monday backed on first reading a bill to allow all citizens to stand for prime minister, which would open the way for a challenge by the former right-wing Likud leader who quit politics after his crushing defeat to Barak in May 1999.
However, Netanyahu reiterated his earlier declaration that he would not stand for the post of prime minister if the parliament decides not to dissolve itself and call early elections at a vote due later Monday.
"My position has not changed. I hope that the Knesset will make the right choice," added Netanyahu, the former leader of the right-wing Likud party who is leading Barak in opinion polls.
"Tomorrow I will present my candidacy for the leadership of Likud. The only case in which I will not present my candidacy for the post of prime minister is if the Knesset decides not to dissolve itself," he said.
Likud is due to hold elections to choose its leader on Tuesday, set to be a fierce battle between Netanyahu and hardline current chairman Ariel Sharon.
Candidates for prime minister must register by December 25.
The so-called "Bibi" bill, which requires another two readings to become law, was approved by 63 votes to 46 with one abstention -- JERUSALEM (AFP)
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