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Israeli prime minister dismisses ministers, calls for elections

After two months of crisis, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired two rival party chairs, Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni.

By Gabrielle Levy
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Israeli prime minister dismisses ministers, calls for elections
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks a press conference in Jerusalem on December 2, 2014. Netanyahu called today for early elections as he fired two key ministers in his coalition for opposing government policy. The sackings were the latest move in a political crisis that will come to a head tomorrow when lawmakers vote on a bill to dissolve the parliament, or Knesset. UPI/Gali Tibbon/Pool | License Photo

JERUSALEM, Dec. 2 (UPI) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired two top ministers and called for the dissolution of the coalition government and new elections this spring.

The move came after Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yair Lapid met Monday night in a last-ditch effort to salvage the coalition that had splintered in past months, most recently over a Jewish state law that would have potentially elevated Israel's Jewish identity over its democratic one.

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At the meeting, Netanyahu accused Lapid of "sabotaging the work of the government," demanding he drop his opposition to the Jewish nation-state law, and halt efforts to put in place at zero-VAT plan. Lapid refused.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu followed through, firing Lapid, chair of the Yesh Atid party, and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, charwoman of Hatnua.

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He is expected to give a statement Tuesday night.

Two months ago, Lapid and Livni formed a leftist front in the coalition against Netanyahu, and began threatening to form an alternative coalition.

Sources in Netanyahu's Likud party told Haaretz they believed they have blocked any avenue for Lapid to build an alternative coalition without holding elections, based on promises from extracted from the two ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism. On Monday, Shas leader Arye Deri confirmed at a press conference he had been approached, but said he had rejected a proposed alternative government.

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Recent polls showed both Shas and Yesh Atid would lose seats. The election would likely take place in the spring. "In recent weeks, including the last day, the ministers Lapid and Livni have sharply attacked the government I lead," Netanyahu said. "I will not tolerate any more opposition from within the government, I will not tolerate ministers attacking the policy of the government and its leader from within the government."

The Likud party agreed Tuesday to back bills of no confidence to break up the government, which is expected to face a vote Wednesday.

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