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Meretz yesterday approved the long-anticipated merger with Yossi Beilin's Shahar movement to form a new left-wing, social democratic bloc. The party's convention met last night in Tel Aviv and effectively put an end to "Meretz" as an independent entity. The Shahar movement already approved the merger with Meretz last week.

The new party will be called Ya'ad, a Hebrew acronym for working, democratic Israel (yisrael ovedet v'democrati). Elections to choose a leader for the party are scheduled for February 24. Meretz MK Ran Cohen has announced his candidacy and Beilin is expected to make a similar announcement next week.

Only 400 of the 3,000 members of the Meretz convention showed up yesterday at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds for the vote. Motions opposed to the new party format were quickly rejected and the merger proposal passed by a large majority.

Former Meretz leader Shulamit Aloni said she welcomed the new partnership and said she hoped it would get off "on the right foot so that the left will achieve its goals."

Aloni's successor as Meretz chairman, MK Yossi Sarid, who resigned after the party's poor election showing in January, noted that he had proposed the formation of a new alignment of left-wing forces three years ago. "I'm happy to see this initiative realized. Better late than never," he said.

The chair of Meretz's Knesset faction, MK Zehava Gal-On, expressed hope that the new party would become the address for all those who believe in combining the struggle for peace with social justice.

`Poisonous' name

When MK Roman Bronfman got word of the name chosen for the new party, he sent off an urgent message to Meretz MKs and other top party officials, explaining that Ya'ad sounds like the Russian word for "poison" - hardly a suitable name for attracting support from Russian-speaking Israelis.

Bronfman was not present at the Meretz meeting last night because his Democratic Choice faction (which ran as part of the Meretz ticket in the January Knesset elections) has yet to join the new social democratic bloc.