Ariel Sharon Leaving His Likud Party شارون يترك حزب الليكود

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    Ariel Sharon Leaving His Likud Party[FRAME="11 70"]

    twenty minutes ago
    , Associated Press Writer
    20 minutes ago



    JERUSALEM - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon took back the initiative
    from the rejuvenated Labor Party, quitting the Likud Party he himself founded

    in 1973 and striking out on his own — a daring pre-emptive strike before

    elections set for days after his 78th birthday.




    Fed up with internal Likud opposition after he completed his withdrawal from

    Gaza, Sharon informed Likud leaders late Sunday that he was leaving to set up

    his own movement. It was the latest turnaround for the former general, hawk

    and settlement builder who jettisoned his record of decades and gave

    Palestinians control of part of their territory this year.

    Sharon's master stroke came just hours after Labor, following the lead of its

    fiery new chairman, Amir Peretz, voted to leave the coalition government it

    entered in January to assure support for the Gaza withdrawal.

    The prime minister's exit leaves Likud as a bastion of hardline opponents of

    compromise with the Palestinians. Weekend polls show that position will erode

    support for Likud, while Sharon's new party would do well in the upcoming

    vote, as would Labor under its new leadership.

    Advancing Israel's election from the original November 2006 date would

    likely sideline Mideast peace moves and counter whatever momentum was gained

    from the withdrawal from Gaza and part of the West Bank, completed in

    September.

    Sharon is expected to take several prominent Likud Cabinet ministers with him

    into his new party, along with some from Labor — possibly including the

    ousted chairman Shimon Peres.

    Sharon's Gaza pullout, a dramatic about-face after decades of settlement

    building and expansion in the West Bank and Gaza, fractured his party.

    On Monday, Sharon is to ask Israel's president to disperse the parliament,

    setting in motion a process leading to elections in March, top adviser Asaf

    Shariv said. Sharon, who turns 78 on Feb. 28, has made no formal

    announcement.

    "I regret Sharon's decision to leave and would have preferred that he

    continue his struggle within Likud," said Ehud Yatom, a Likud member of

    parliament who was among the leaders of the internal rebellion against

    Sharon.

    Separately, Palestinians are concentrating on their own parliamentary

    election, set for Jan. 25, with the violent Islamic Hamas running candidates

    for the first time and posing a significant challenge to the ruling Fatah

    Party of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

    Fatah primary elections began Saturday in the desert oasis of Jericho, and as

    expected, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat won the nomination for the

    town's only seat, election officials said Sunday.

    This month's surprise election of Peretz as head of Labor accelerated the

    spiral toward early elections.

    Labor joined Sharon's coalition government in January to buttress support for

    the Gaza pullout, but in one of his first moves, Peretz extracted letters of

    resignation from the eight Labor Cabinet ministers last week.

    In a strident campaign speech, his first as party leader, Peretz told the

    convention that Sharon had partially corrected his mistake of building

    settlements in Gaza by pulling out, but he charged that in constructing them

    in the first place, Sharon had wasted "billions that could have been used to

    turn the education system around."

    Blaming Sharon and his ex-finance minister Benjamin Netanyahu for

    increasing poverty and "humiliating" the poor, Peretz appealed to Israel's

    lower classes, traditionally Likud voters. "Come join the new social pact,"

    he said, "you are not abandoning Likud. Likud has abandoned you," emphasizing

    social issues over Israel's traditional election deciders — security and the

    Palestinian issue.

    In a brief reference to Mideast peacemaking, Peretz said he favors a united

    Jerusalem as Israel's capital and opposes permitting Palestinian refugees to

    return to Israel — an attempt to counter efforts to paint him as an extreme

    dove who would make far-reaching concessions to the Palestinians.

    He also said that creation of a Palestinian state is in Israel's interest as

    well as the Palestinians'.[/FRAME]
     

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