Shas Party May Leave Gov't.

Ad Feedback - JERUSALEM, Israel - The ultra-Orthodox Shas party may decide to leave the coalition next week, which would leave the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert without a majority in the Knesset (parliament).

Shas represents much of the Sephardic (Spanish/Middle Eastern) and the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews. The move is expected after Shas' recent demand for increased child allowances were rejected this week. The Shas Council of Torah Sages, the party's leadership, will likely decide next week whether to remain in the coalition.

Member of Knesset (MK) and Shas chairman Eli Yishai said the move is not precipitated by Olmert's legal troubles. Yishai also said he will urge the council to support an early election and not to leave the government just yet.

"I don't see the option of an alternative government that could be formed," Yishai said. "I prefer advancing the election."

Yishai's associates say he will convene the council a second time to decide whether to leave the coalition once the actions of Kadima and other parties are clear. The Labor party announced Monday that it might pull out of the government.

On Tuesday, Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On (Kadima) denied Shas' demand to substantially increase family financial support. The increased allowance would have greatly assisted the more Orthodox constituents of Shas, who tend to have larger families.

"Poor families need these payments like oxygen," Yishai said. "I serve in the Cabinet and see the billions that are invested, but at least part has to come in increased child welfare allowances. We have been demanding this from the start of this government. But I don't like to make threats and set deadlines. We will continue talking and hopefully things will eventually progress," he said.

Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef stated previously that the party would leave the coalition if the demand was rejected.

Shas is the third largest party in the government, with 12 lawmakers in Olmert's 67-member coalition.

Source: The Jerusalem Post

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