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TEL AVIV (Reuters) — Likud’s Central Committee convened in Tel Aviv before a vote on a motion by Sharon’s rightist challenger, Benjamin Netanyahu, to bring the party’s primary forward to November.
In what could be a defining moment in Israeli politics, Sharon stormed out of the meeting after his microphone was cut off as he twice attempted to begin a speech to the rowdy forum. Aides accused his opponents of sabotaging the sound system.
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Sharon’s critics, led by Netanyahu, have said the Gaza pullout after five years of Palestinian violence will only bring more cross-border attacks on Israel from militants dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish state.
Sharon, who wants the party primary held closer to national parliamentary elections due by late next year, has said “radical extremists” have taken control of the Likud, which he helped to found three decades ago.
He has declined to say whether he would remain in the party if the 3,000-member Central Committee vote goes against him, raising speculation he may bolt and form a new centrist alliance that would tap into mainstream support for the Gaza pullout.
GAZA (Reuters) — Israel killed a top Islamic Jihad commander in an air strike and arrested more than 200 suspected militants after warning Palestinians of a crushing response to rocket attacks from Gaza.
The strike on a car along Gaza’s coastal road was launched soon after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Likud party convened to consider whether he should soon face a leadership election over a pullout from the territory completed two weeks ago.
The attack killed Mohammed al-Sheikh Khalil, described by Islamic Jihad as one of its “most senior commanders in Palestine.” Khalil’s deputy, Mohammad Barhoum, was also killed and four people were wounded, medics said, as Israeli-Palestinian violence surged to its highest level since the Gaza withdrawal.
The Islamic Jihad called for revenge and its gunmen threatened to abandon a ceasefire in effect since February. “Sharon ended the truce when he started this widescale war against the West Bank and the Gaza Strip,” Islamic Jihad leader Mohammed al-Hindi said after viewing the bodies in a hospital morgue.
Earlier, Israel arrested more than 200 suspected militants in the West Bank as Sharon ordered the army to use any means to stop rocket salvoes from Gaza
At an unusual press conference by a spokesman in Gaza, Hamas declared immediate return to truce with Israelis. The promise would mean no rockets to be launched from Gaza territory. Hamas apparently does not want to be blamed to a return of Israeli occupation and destruction, just two week after Israeli unilateral withdrawal from occupied territory of the Gaza strip.
Hostilities returned to Gaza after Israeli declaration it would prevent Hamas from participating in Palestinian elections.
Israel raided the West Bank territory, killing suspected Palestinian activists. Later the Israelis entered and imprisoned 145 Palestinians.
Two days ago an explosion during a Hamas rally killed 15 persons. The Israelis claim they were not involved. Hamas accused the Israeli of a rocket fired by a drone, causing the mass killings. There were Israeli helicopters flying over Gaza city at the time of the rally.