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Israel votes to dissolve parliament

Israeli lawmakers have voted to dissolve the Knesset, a preliminary step that will pave the way for early elections two years ahead of schedule.

Israel's government, which took office in early 2013, has been riven by divisions from the beginning over major issues facing the country.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired two rebellious Cabinet ministers and called for elections - plunging the country into a bitter campaign set to culminate in polls early next year.

The vote in the 120-member Knesset, which passed 84-0 with one legislator abstaining, was an initial step. Further votes are expected next week that will officially dissolve Israel's parliament and usher in new polls.

If the votes pass as expected, the current parliament will have served for one of the shortest periods in the country's history.

Yuli Edelstein, the speaker of Israel's parliament, said party representatives had agreed on March 17 as the date for the early elections. In a procedural step, the date must still be approved by each party.

"The coming elections are about one question: who will lead the government amid the huge challenges that Israel faces?" Mr Netanyahu told a meeting of his Likud party.

"The Likud is the only party that should be considered."

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog said his centre-left Labour party would "do everything to bring change and hope to Israel".

The election would come at a time of growing violence between Palestinians and Israelis, and deepening despair over prospects for peace.

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