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The Knesset approved in its first reading on Wednesday a law which mandates conscripted soldiers receive a monthly salary equaling that of the minimum wage.

The bill, which was proposed by former defense minister and current Labor Party MK Amir Peretz, was supported by 41 MKs to 38 against. Peretz was able to win passage by taking advantage of the absence of colleagues from his own party and from the ruling coalition. The move was also a victory of sorts for Peretz in his feud with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who stringently opposes the proposed law.

Soon afterwards, the coalition managed to remove two proposed laws, both of them identical in nature, from the day's agenda. The bills were authored by Meretz MK Haim Oron and Yisrael Beiteinu MK Sofa Landver.

Peretz's bill will be brought before the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. In the later stages of legislation, the bill would need the support of at least 50 MKs due to the fact that it deals with budgetary matters, thus making its final passage unlikely.

Finance Minister Roni Bar-On said Peretz's initiative is "a flawed proposal."

"The horrible costs will be borne by the defense establishment," Bar-On said. The minister also rejected Peretz's request to negotiate with the government on a gradual increase in soldiers' salaries.