The Israeli parliament adopted the first reading of a proposed 240 billion shekel ($60 billion) budget for 2001.
The vote came only hours before Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon is due to present his newly formed coalition government to parliament. The second and third readings of the finance bill must be approved before March 31, or new legislative elections would automatically be triggered.
With 86 of the parliament's 120 members present, the first reading passed by a vote of 54 to 32. Submitted by outgoing Labor Finance Minister Avraham Shohat, it got the backing of Labor, Sharon's Likud party and other parliamentary groups.
It is expected that the bill will be modified by Sharon's government, once it takes office, with a substantial increase anticipated in defense outlays to deal with the Palestinian uprising that began more than five months ago.
Increases are also expected in government support for Jewish settlements and for religious institutions. The current draft already earmarks $300 million for settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, according to Israel's Peace Now movement.
Sharon finished putting together his coalition on Tuesday night, which gives him the support of at least 73 deputies in parliament. — (AFP, Jerusalem)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)