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Israel Heads to Elections as Gaza Violence Continues

  • Luis Ramirez

This is the last day of campaigning in Israel, where voters on Tuesday are to elect a new prime minister. With security as a major concern in the elections, polls have hardliner Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party in the lead. The polling comes as violence continues to flare in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli warplanes were again in the skies over the Gaza Strip, hitting what military officials said were Hamas targets in retaliation for two rocket attacks on southern Israel on Sunday. The militant group Islamic Jihad said one of its members was killed on the ground while on a mission to attack an Israeli patrol.

The two main candidates in Tuesday's elections are the right-wing Likud Party's Benjamin Netanyahu and the ruling centrist Kadima party's Tzipi Livni. Polls show the gap between the two narrowing.

Mr. Netanyahu is a U.S.-educated former prime minister who wants to shift the focus away from negotiations with the Palestinians and instead concentrate on economic issues. He also calls for toppling Hamas.

Livni is the foreign minister who has been Israel's chief negotiator in talks with the Palestinians. She strongly supports the creation of a separate Palestinian state in keeping with earlier agreements.

With rain in the forecast for election day and the polls saying an unprecedented number of potential voters are undecided or unlikely to cast ballots, turnout Tuesday is expected to be low.

On the streets of West Jerusalem, some people like this man say they thought about not voting. He is among what polls say is an unprecedented number of Israelis who, just hours before the polls open, are still undecided. He says the latest events in Gaza may push him to vote for one of the right-wing parties.

"The current leadership of Israel, be it Kadima, be it Labor, be it Likud, et cetera, are for the most part just a bunch of opportunists," he said. "They think about what is good for their pocket, their own power, their own money. Did they do what was necessary in Gaza? That they did something was already a miracle. That they did not complete it, that was typical."

Public-opinion surveys show a sharp increase in support for the far-right Yisreil Beiteinu led by Avigdor Leiberman, who the latest polls showed to be third behind Netanyahu and Livni.

The Russian-born politician has called for Arab communities within Israel to be handed over to the Palestinian-run West Bank, and said any Arab citizen of Israel should be required to prove his or her loyalty to the Jewish state.

No one is predicting that Leiberman will be elected prime minister. But the winner of Tuesday's election will have to form a coalition government in which Leiberman's party could be part. Strong support for his party on Tuesday would mean he would be influential in the new coalition that forms.

Early results are expected late Tuesday.

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