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By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON, Feb 12 (Reuters) - A U.S. Senate panel approved Chuck Hagel as President Barack Obama's new secretary of defense on Tuesday, setting the stage for a vote on his confirmation by the full Senate, possibly this week.
The Senate Armed Services Committee voted 14-11 along party lines to approve the former Nebraska Republican senator's confirmation to succeed Leon Panetta as the civilian leader at the Pentagon.
Senator David Vitter, a Republican of Louisiana, did not cast a vote or leave an instruction, but his vote would not change the outcome anyway.
The nomination of Hagel, 66, has met stiff opposition from some of his fellow Republicans, who raised questions about whether he was sufficiently supportive of Israel and tough on Iran.
Senator Carl Levin, the committee's Democratic chairman, told reporters that he hoped for a vote by the full Senate on Hagel's nomination by the end of this week. However, he said that vote could be pushed out through the weekend if Republicans use procedural hurdles to delay it. (Reporting By Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Sandra Maler and Christopher Wilson)