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Ariel Sharon Wins Likud Leadership Amid Attacks Against Israelis - 2002-11-28

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon won an easy election battle to retain the leadership of Israel's ruling Likud Party Thursday as his country was hit by successive terror attacks. Mr. Sharon swept the voting in an internal Likud election, defeating his challenger, Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, by at least 20 percentage points.

Mr. Sharon's victory in the Likud leadership contest virtually assures him of another term in office as prime minister.

The Likud faction is far ahead of the opposition Labor Party in the latest public opinion polls and few doubt that Likud will win national parliamentary elections scheduled for January.

Yossi Venter, a political writer for the Ha'aretz newspaper, says that Mr. Sharon's victory represents a great personal triumph for the Israeli leader.

Mr. Venter says that Mr. Sharon has finally overcome Mr. Netanyahu, who had been shadowing the prime minister for years and was until recently often seen as the more popular politician.

Mr. Venter says that Mr. Sharon has, in his words, finally vanquished "the ghost of Netanyahu."

About 40 percent of Likud members voted in Thursday's internal ballot after being urged by Mr. Sharon not to be deterred by a series of terror attacks.

Mr. Sharon made the appeal after Palestinian gunmen opened fire Thursday on a Likud polling booth in the northern Israeli town of Beit Shean.

The attack followed two simultaneous terrorist strikes against Israeli targets in Kenya.

A hotel frequented by Israeli tourists was struck by suicide bombers near the coastal city of Mombassa. About the same time, an Israeli airliner narrowly missed being struck by two missiles, shortly after take-off from the same area.

Mr. Sharon told a news conference in Tel Aviv Thursday the terror unleashed against his citizens had also been aimed at influencing elections in Israel.

His Defense Minister, Shaul Mofaz, also claimed that Palestinian extremists were attempting to interfere in the Israeli democratic process.