With a festering political crisis overshadowed by the death of Syrian leader Hafez Assad, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak put off Sunday the sacking of a group of rebel ministers, Israeli radio reported.
Barak had been expected to present to a weekly cabinet meeting the dismissal of six ministers from right wing and religious parties who voted with the opposition during a parliamentary vote last week backing early elections.
But the cabinet session is now likely to be dominated by discussion on the prospects of a reveal of peace talks with longtime foe Syria following Assad's death on Saturday after almost 30 years of autocratic rule.
Wednesday's Knesset vote, though not yet binding, was a severe blow to Barak, who has been in office 11 months at the head of a motley coalition drawn from six parties from the left and right and religious and secular interests.
Barak has said he wants to create a new coalition although he has suggested it could have a similar make-up to the current government, including the biggest party to defect, the influential ultra-Orthodox Jewish party Shas.
Cabinet minister without portfolio Haim Ramon said Barak's One Israel bloc held negotiations throughout the night on the crisis.
"We are trying to create a coalition system which will work properly, and determine which party can be a part of such a coalition," Ramon, a close Barak confidant, told the radio.
The radio, citing aides close to Barak, said the prime minister decided not to present the dismissals Sunday as negotiations with Shas were close to a conclusion.
Barak's office declined to comment.
Israeli radio quoted Barak as saying he expected to form a narrow coalition which could make "important changes" and even establish a constitution for the Jewish state within a year.
Israel has no formal constitution but a series of Basic Laws, which lay the foundation for legislation.
Press reports here say Barak will continue negotiations with Shas, which voted against the government because of a long-running feud over its demands for funding for its near-bankrupt religious schools.
But the leading Haaretz newspaper quoted one Shas official as saying: "One more straw and we will leave the coalition."
Shas, which has 17 seats in the 120-member parliament and is the second biggest party in the coalition after One Israel, has often threatened to walk out, using its funding demands as the price of support for Barak's peace policies - OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)