Begin exit sets stage for Shamir

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Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin's formal resignation clears the way for a new government likely to be headed by Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir. Cabinet Secretary Dan Meridor delivered the letter of resignation Thursday for the prime minister, whose poor health prevented him from presenting it in person. His resignation ends the political uncertainty sparked by his announcement 18 days earlier that he wanted to leave office.

In accord with Israeli law, President Chaim Herzog said he would consult with leaders of all parties represented in the Knesset (parliament) before nominating a politician to set up a new coalition.

With a tentative coalition agreement reached on Monday, Mr. Shamir was the front-runner to receive the President's mandate. Under the agreement, Shamir would head a government identical to the outgoing administration. He has pledged not to change Cabinet appointments and to continue Begin's drive to cover the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip with Jewish settlements.

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Begin's formal resignation cut short an outbreak of arguments among Israeli ministers over who was running the country. Wednesday night Deputy Prime Minister David Levy said on state television that he had taken over the duties of prime minister, but this was denied by Begin's office and other ministers. Mr. Levy's television statement appeared designed to allay fears Israel had no clear leadership.

The independent newspaper Haaretz called Begin's long delay in formalizing his resignation and his self-imposed seclusion ''a sad exit from history.''

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