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Some 30 Likud mayors will meet in Tel Aviv on Thursday to plan strategies for helping Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in his battle against the Likud rebels.
The mayors, led by Lehavim Mayor Eli Levy, started an effort on Wednesday to obtain the 600 signatures of Likud central committee members necessary to convene the committee to pass a proposal that could prevent the rebels from returning to the next Knesset.
The proposal would ban MKs from running for re-election with the Likud if they voted against the appointment of Likud ministers or a Likud government's budget.
"We cannot allow people in the faction to not back the prime minister on cardinal issues like the budget and appointing ministers," Levy said.
Levy said that if the petition effort does not succeed, he and the other 30 mayors would be willing to follow Sharon to a new party. He said that unless the rebels are prevented from running for reelection, Sharon will not be able to function in the Likud faction in the next Knesset.
"If the eight MKs do not fall in line, we will have no choice but to look elsewhere to help the man who is the right man to lead the country," Levy said. "Many other mayors will follow Sharon to the new party, including some of my Arab friends."
Sharon's associates said they were not involved in Levy's efforts.
A Sharon adviser said that Levy's petition would have a good chance to pass in the central committee.
"The rebels are under huge pressure with good reason," a Sharon adviser said. "The central committee vote in September against advancing the Likud primary proved that the central committee members don't want elections. We won then and we can win this, too."
But the Likud rebels scoffed at the petition drive. They said that Levy might be able to obtain the support of the 600 members needed to convene the committee but not the 1500 members necessary to pass the proposal.
"I can only laugh at it because it has no chance in hell," Likud rebel MK Yuli Edelstein said.
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