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Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised MK Yaakov Litzman of Agudat Yisrael the chair of the Knesset's Finance Committee in the next Knesset as well, after the elections.

Litzman told Haaretz yesterday that in a recent meeting with Sharon, he told the prime minister that he was thinking of retiring from politics. Sharon persuaded him not to do so, Litzman said, and urged him to continue leading United Torah Judaism (UTJ) - of which Agudat Yisrael is a faction - in the next elections.

Sharon promised "close and productive cooperation" with UTJ when and if he serves as the next prime minister.

Sources from the Ger stream of ultra-Orthodox Jews said the Gerrer rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter, is not likely to permit Litzman to step down from his role as the Knesset representative of the Gerrer stream.

They said Litzman's status has strengthened recently following his success in reconciling between the Gerrer rebbe and MK Moshe Gafni of Degel Hatorah, possibly leading to the renewed cooperation of the two factions.

Degel Hatorah has yet to decide whether to run together with Agudat Yisrael in the elections.