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Middle East

Candidates enter the final campaign stretch

Latest update : 2009-02-09

As candidates launched a last round of campaigning before Israel's Feb. 10 general election, the Likud party's Benjamin Netanyahu (pictured), who leads in polls, vowed to stop rocket fire from Gaza just hours after a kibbutz was hit by artillery.

FRANCE 24 Observers comment on the forthcoming elections





Read our special report on security in the spotlight as Israelis prepare to vote


AFP - Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday vowed to stop rocket fire from Gaza as top candidates battled it out for a record number of undecided voters ahead of the general election in two days' time.

Speaking hours after a rocket fired from Gaza exploded in a kibbutz near the Hamas-run enclave, Netanyahu -- widely tipped to become prime minister after Tuesday's vote -- vowed his government would put a stop to such attacks.

"It starts by sporadic firings, then turns into a downpour and finishes by a storm," Netanyahu, the leader of the right-wing opposition Likud party, told army radio.

"Under my government, there will no longer be downpours or storms and there will no longer be arms smuggling, especially rockets that can one day reach Tel Aviv," said the former premier.

Pollsters say a record 20 percent of Israeli voters remain undecided, and on Sunday the top candidates were doing their utmost to swing them to their camps.

Most opinion surveys predict that Netanyahu's Likud and other right-wing parties will win the most votes and that 59-year-old Bibi, as Netanyahu is widely known, will be the best placed to form a coalition government.

The election's biggest spoiler is expected to be Avigdor Lieberman, whose ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party is due to become the third-largest in parliament, crowning the tough-talking Soviet immigrant as the new kingmaker in the complex rough-and-tumble world of Israeli politics.

The 50-year-old immigrant from then Soviet Moldova has built his reputation on vitriolic diatribes against Israeli Arabs that have provoked charges of racism and fascism, and made "No Citizenship Without Loyalty" a main campaign theme of the poll.

His number two said on Sunday that the party would join "a national government that will reject the roadmap as well as all negotiations on a withdrawal from the Golan Heights."

Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister and leader of the centrist Kadima party that has headed the government for the last three years, distanced herself from outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and reports of understandings he had reached with Palestinians during a year of revived peace talks.

Israeli media quoted Olmert as telling the new US Middle East envoy George Mitchell during his maiden trip to the region in January that he had agreed, among other things, to remove 60,000 settlers from the occupied West Bank and give Palestinians sovereignty over some sections of Jerusalem.

"Each prime minister chooses his way, what he had chosen is not mine. I am not associated with this proposition," Livni told army radio, also distancing herself from indirect talks with Syria via Turkey.

Roni Bar-On, finance minister and a close Livni ally, said he did not exclude an alliance with Lieberman after the vote. "He is a big Zionist, there is no reason to exclude a possible coalition."

Ehud Barak, whose veteran Labour party is predicted to receive its worst-ever drubbing on Tuesday, underlined that negotiations were ongoing for the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier seized by Gaza militants in June 2006.

"We are in the midst of discussions that have to be done both on the situation in the Gaza Strip and the issue of Gilad Shalit," he told reporters before the weekly cabinet meeting.

"The effort to bring about his release is immense... we dealt a heavy blow to Hamas and they're interested in a ceasefire. The Egyptians are also key players because they're responsibe for halting the arms smuggling and they can make a significant contribution on the issue of Shalit," he said.

Egypt said on Sunday it was hopeful that a deal on a long-term truce between Israel and the Islamist Hamas movement could be reached within a few days.

Egypt has been mediating indirect talks for a lasting truce since the end of Israel's massive 22-day onslaught on the Gaza Strip, which killed at least 1,330 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.


Date created : 2009-02-08