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Barak quits Israeli Labour Party

Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak has announced that he is leaving the country's Labour Party.

The move will divide the movement that dominated Israeli politics for decades and is likely to set off a chain reaction that cast new doubts over already troubled peace efforts with the Palestinians.

The split in the party that led Israel to independence did not appear to threaten the majority of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition. Barak, a former prime minister and military chief, will stay in the ruling coalition with four followers who joined him.

But Labour's eight remaining members, who had been pushing him to leave the government because of the impasse in peace talks, are expected to withdraw.

Labour has been the sole moderate party in Netanyahu's coalition, which is otherwise dominated by religious and nationalist parties that oppose major concessions to the Palestinians.

Following Barak's announcement, three Labour Cabinet ministers Isaac Herzog, Avishai Braverman and Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, also handed in their resignations. Barak "spit in the face of the party that elected him," Ben-Eliezer said.

During a news conference at Israel's parliament Barak said he was tired of the infighting within Labour. He accused his former partners of moving too far to the dovish end of the political spectrum.

He said: "We are embarking on a new path. We want to wake up without having to compromise, apologise and explain."

He said the faction - to be called Independence - would be "centrist, Zionist and democratic." He did not take any questions.

Netanyahu said the Labour shake up made his government stronger by dashing any hopes the Palestinians might have that his coalition would fall. "The whole world knows and the Palestinians also know this government will be here in the coming years and this is the government they must negotiate with for peace," he told a meeting of lawmakers from his ruling Likud Party.

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