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Sharon Appeals For Governing Partners After Winning Israeli Election - 2003-01-29

According to initial, unofficial results, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his right wing Likud party won a sweeping victory in legislative elections on Tuesday. But, Likud did not win an outright parliamentary majority and so Mr. Sharon now begins the task for negotiating with other parties to try to form a coalition government.

Israel is on its way to a new government. Initial projections by Israeli television networks show that Ariel Sharon's right wing Likud party has won between 32 and 36 seats in the 120-member parliament. That means Mr. Sharon will be asked to negotiate a coalition of parties to form the next government.

Mr. Sharon was greeted by jubilant supporters when he appeared at Likud Party headquarters in Tel Aviv. In his acceptance speech, he appealed for national unity.

Mr. Sharon said the difference between the various political parties amount to nothing in light of the terrorist threat facing the country. He said Israel must not be divided internally. Israel needs unity and stability. Mr. Sharon made an appeal to other political parties to join him in a broad unity government.

Likud's main rival, the Labor Party was dealt a crushing blow in Tuesday's elections, heading to its worst showing in the party's history. In conceding defeat, Labor leader Amram Mitzna vowed his party would not join a Likud coalition.

Mr. Mitzna told supporters that while voters chose Mr. Sharon to lead the next government, they also chose the Labor Party as the alternative. He vowed that Labor would not join in a Likud coalition, but would instead be the opposition and would work hard to replace the Sharon-led government.

Analysts predicted this kind of outcome. They say two years of Israeli-Palestinian violence has left many Israelis disillusioned about prospects for peace and has increased support for Mr. Sharon's tough policies against the Palestinians.

Analysts also predicted that Israelis were unlikely to vote against an experienced incumbent in favor of the relatively inexperienced Mr. Mitzna, who wants immediate resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians.

Mr. Sharon is expected to have weeks of complex negotiations ahead to form a ruling coalition of several parties with potentially very diverse views. Among those likely to play a role will be the vehemently secular party Shinui, which looks to rank third with the strongest showing in the party's history.

Palestinians are reacting with dismay to the initial election results. Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says Mr. Sharon's victory means Israel is preparing for more violence and not for peace.