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Israeli Defense Minister Leaves Labor Party

Defense Minister Ehud Barak

Defense Minister Ehud Barak

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has announced that he is leaving the Labor Party that he has led since 2007.

Barak said he was setting up a new faction in parliament, to be called Independence.

"This morning we filed a request to the Knesset [Israel's parliament] to acknowledge us as a new faction which we would like to call Independence," Barak said.

"Today we are becoming independent. Today we are forming a faction, a movement, and then a party that will be centrist, Zionist, and democratic."

Four other Labor lawmakers -- three of them ministers or deputy ministers -- were joining the new faction.

The minister in charge of social affairs later said he was quitting the government, but said he would stay with the Labor Party -- the third-largest party in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's governing coalition.

Barak's move comes amid calls from leading members of the more moderate Labor to split from Netanyahu's hard-line coalition in the absence of progress toward peace in talks with the Palestinians.

Barak and the other four lawmakers from the new faction will remain in the coalition.

Netanyahu will retain a majority of 66 in the 120-seat parliament even if the remaining eight Labor lawmakers decide to join the opposition.

Israel Radio quoted Netanyahu as saying the move would bring "stability" to the coalition.

compiled from agency reports