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As Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu began sounding out potential coalition partners Sunday, a top aide said the new government would move to shut businesses on the Jewish Sabbath in an apparent concession to religious parties.

But it was unclear if Netanyahu would be able to heed the demands of those parties - likely partners in the new government - since Israeli courts have ruled against religious restrictions in the past.Netanyahu spokesman Yvet Leiberman said the new Likud Party government would honor a previous arrangement - known in Israel as the "status quo" - which guaranteed the closure of most businesses during the Sabbath (see related story below).

Religious parties won an unprecedented 23 Parliament seats in last week's elections in which Netanyahu beat Prime Minister Shimon Peres by a scant 30,000 votes.

Likud, however, won just 32 seats in the 120-seat Parliament, known as the Knesset, where a majority must approve any new government.

Since religious voters backed Netanyahu, they were an obvious choice for his coalition. Other possible partners include the centrist Third Way party with four seats and and an immigrants' party which won seven seats.

Religious parties have criticized the outgoing Labor government for failing to impose Sabbath restrictions, even though the 1989 decision occurred under a Likud-led government. They have vowed to legislate those restrictions in the incoming Knesset.

Yigal Bibi, a lawmaker of the National Religious Party, said his group would demand that the new government close shopping malls on the Jewish Sabbath - from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. The NRP backed Netanyahu in the elections and won nine seats in the Knesset.

"It is unacceptable that in the state of Israel people are being forced to work seven days a week when it was the Jews who invented the Sabbath," Bibi said.

He singled out McDonald's for a menu that defies Jewish dietary laws by mixing milk and meat.

AP-WS-06-02-96 1010EDT