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Labor Party Chair Shimon Peres is facing growing opposition from his party over his decision to continue coalition talks with Likud despite the Likud convention's resolution last week against bringing Labor into the government.

For the first time in a long while, Peres is facing a concerted attack by senior Labor MKs, who are already being termed "the Labor rebels." These MKs will hold their first coordinating meeting today, called by Matan Vilnai. Avraham Shochat, Ophir Pines-Paz, Yuli Tamir, Eitan Cabel, Danny Yatom and Ephraim Sneh are all expected to attend.

Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, who resigned from Labor's negotiating team last week, will not be present, but does plan to attend a rally against entering the government scheduled for that evening, sponsored by a new group called "The Real Labor."

In contrast, MKs Haim Ramon and Amram Mitzna agree with Peres that the talks should continue, saying that Labor dare not be responsible for the failure of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan.

The "rebel" MKs are also demanding that Labor's bureau meet this week to vote on dismantling the negotiating team. On Friday, Pines-Paz sent Peres a letter signed by 80 bureau members demanding a meeting.

In addition, Shochat asked faction chair Dalia Itzik to convene the Labor faction to discuss freezing the negotiations. Shochat claimed that Itzik was evasive, but Itzik said the faction will meet this week.

The Labor rebels were particularly outraged by Peres' public statement last Thursday, in which he called for early elections and said he saw himself as Labor's prime ministerial candidate, as he was elected party chairman through December 2005. Some of the rebels have prime ministerial ambitions of their own, and when they voted to extend Peres' temporary chairmanship, they never intended this as backing for his electoral bid.

Over the weekend, Peres hastened to clarify that if elections are called, and anyone wants to challenge him for the role of Labor's candidate, he will agree to a primary. But that failed to satisfy rivals, who fear Peres plans to delay until shortly before the elections and then argue that there is not enough time to choose a new candidate.

Vilnai, Shochat and Ben-Eliezer, who all want to be Labor's candidate, responded furiously to Peres' statement on Thursday. Vilnai stressed that the party's constitution requires its prime ministerial candidate to be chosen by primary. Shochat termed Peres' behavior "scandalous," saying: "Peres said explicitly he would not be a candidate. Apparently, the party's constitution does not stipulate that you have to tell the truth."

Several MKs said the party was fed up with Peres. "We gave him a lot of credit for coming to rehabilitate the party, and instead, he stole it and is using it to realize his pathetic ambition," said one. "He took the party prisoner and is using it cynically. If disengagement is so important, why won't he give up the Foreign Ministry?"