A feud between Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and hard-liner Ariel Sharon burst into the open Thursday, and newspapers said Shamir might fire the former defense minister from the Cabinet.
Sharon, now trade minister, has been challenging Shamir's leadership of the right-wing Likud Party. He renewed attacks Thursday on the prime minister's peace plan for the occupied territories, demanding that the Cabinet focus on crushing the 19-month-old Palestinian rebellion rather than debating the language of peace proposals.
The former general said on Army Radio: "No personal attacks or threats to fire me will keep me from demanding an end to the murder of Jews in the land of Israel."
Yossi Ahimeir, spokesman for Shamir, would not comment on reports in two major newspapers, the liberal Haaretz and the independent Yediot Aharonot, that Shamir is considering dismissing Sharon.
Shamir's anger erupted in a closed meeting Wednesday of Likud ministers, where Sharon criticized the prime minister for not disclosing details of his talks with Palestinians about election arrangements.
Newspapers quoted this exchange:
"I cannot tell you anything; you leak everything you get your hands on," Shamir responded. He accused Sharon of "sowing bad blood and hatred among us."
Sharon said: "I can only laugh at your words. I have contempt for what you say."
Shamir replied: "He who laughs last laughs best, and I don't want to speak to you."
Several newspapers interpreted Shamir's words as a threat to fire Sharon. Yediot Aharonot said the prime minister's allies in Likud are urging him to do so.
Ahimeir suggested, however, that Shamir wants to avoid a split.
"The prime minister is concerned about the unity of the Likud," the spokesman said. "He has a high tolerance threshold and tries to see things in their broadest sense."