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Israel's Coalition Loses Key Kadima Party
Israel's centrist Kadima party has pulled out of the ruling coalition in protest at the failure to reform the country's military draft laws.
The move leaves Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a narrow majority and could pave the way for early elections.
Kadima's departure - just two months after the party's surprise decision to join the government - was sparked by an ongoing row over a law exempting ultra-religious Jews from serving in the military.
The legislation has been declared unconstitutional and the government has until August 1 to come up with an alternative.
With time fast running out, the coalition, led by Mr Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party, has struggled to reach a consensus.
Kadima's leader, Shaul Mofaz, had demanded that all ultra-orthodox Jews between the ages of 18 and 23 years be required to undertake military service.
Mr Netanyahu had offered a compromise deal that would still allow some to postpone the draft and others to avoid it completely by opting to serve in civilian units, including the ambulance service.
Mr Mofaz said the change would not lead to any significant "sharing of the burden" of military duty.
National service is one of the cornerstones of Israeli life and is viewed as a patriotic duty by most young Israelis who serve two or three years in the military.
But both ultra-religious Jews and Arabs who have Israeli nationality have long been able to avoid the draft.
Leaders of the Haredim - the ultra-orthodox Jewish grouping - have opposed any forced conscription of young men on the grounds that it would prevent them pursuing their intensive religious studies.
The situation has long been a cause of friction in a society increasingly defined by tensions between secular and ultra-orthodox Jews.
Demographic changes in Israel are increasing the size of the ultra-religious communities - and their power in the country.
Several religious parties serve in Mr Netanyahu's coalition.