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Sharon's Health Casts Shadow Over Israeli, Palestinian Politics


With Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon battling for life at a hospital, intense speculation has begun about how his absence from politics will affect the upcoming March election and the Mideast peace process.

Mr. Sharon, who helped create the Likud Party, left the right-wing group in November after facing growing discontent over his decision to withdraw Israeli forces and settlers from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.

He formed the centrist Kadima party to compete in the March 28 election, and opinion polls indicated he would easily win an unprecedented third term.

However, political observers say the party is so closely associated with Mr. Sharon that his illness is likely to affect the election campaign.

Meanwhile, senior Palestinian leaders are worried Mr. Sharon's health might disrupt Palestinian parliamentary elections set for January 25, as well as relations between the two sides. But some Palestinian militants cheered the Israeli leader's illness, saying the region would a better place without him.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.
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