JERUSALEM -- A prosettlement party said yesterday that it plans to quit Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's coalition government over his plan to pull out of the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank, further eroding his hold on power.
The National Religious Party is expected to leave the coalition today, when its minister, Zevulun Orlev, is to present his resignation unless Sharon agrees to a referendum on the pullout by then.
Orlev said he hopes the move will bring down the government.
"We've gotten to the point where we believe that our departure will bring about early elections," he told Channel Two TV.
Sharon already lost his parliamentary majority in June, when he ejected another prosettlement party from his coalition to secure a Cabinet majority for his plan.
The National Religious Party has six seats in the 120-member parliament. Two of its members were already voting with the opposition to protest Sharon's plan to evacuate all 21 Gaza settlements and four small ones in the West Bank.
The party's decision yesterday means its remaining four members will withdraw their support for Sharon. He will be forced to govern with a minority of 55 seats -- making the coalition more vulnerable to no-confidence votes.
Sharon now depends on the backing of the opposition Labor party for his survival. Labor, which favors trading all of Gaza and most of the West Bank for peace, has said it would support his efforts to carry out his plan.
Meanwhile, Sharon took another blow yesterday when parliament's finance committee failed to approve advance payments for settlers slated to be evacuated.