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Sharon's Likud Party Wins Israeli Elections - 2003-01-28


Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Likud Party has apparently won the country's just completed general elections.

Labor Party leader Amran Mitzna has conceded defeat.

As Israel's polling station closed Tuesday night, the three main television stations predicted the right-wing Likud Party will win 32 to 36 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

Likud's closest rival, Labor, is expected to win 17 to 19 seats -- its worst ever election results. Labor officials say the party will NOT join a coalition government headed by Mr. Sharon.

Exit polls indicate the third place finisher will be the secular Shinui Party. The party is projected to more than double its current six parliamentary seats to finish with 14 to 17 seats. Twenty-seven political parties competed in the parliamentary elections.

The Likud Party's win comes as no surprise to analysts, who say Mr. Sharon will be left with the difficult task of putting together a stable coalition from rightist, ultra-nationalist and religious parties to win majority support in the Knesset.

Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says Mr. Sharon's victory means the peace process will be further suspended and violence will escalate.

Tight security prevailed in Israel during the elections. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are under a travel ban.

Tuesday's vote was plagued by one of the lowest turnouts in Israel's history, with little more than 60 percent of the country's nearly five million eligible voters having gone to the polls two hours before they closed.

Meanwhile, violence in the occupied territories claimed seven Palestinian lives Tuesday. Israeli troops shot four Palestinians in the West Bank town of Jenin, and three others were killed in an explosion that ripped through the house of a militant near Gaza City. Palestinians say the blast was caused by an Israeli missile fired from a helicopter gunship. But the Israeli military denied involvement.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov urged a meeting of the so-called Middle East Quartet -- Russia, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations. He said it is very important the group meet soon to present a plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Mr. Sharon has voiced strong objections to the proposal and has called for the removal of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat before peace talks can continue.

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