Barak faces fury of the Knesset as three more die

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The Independent Online

Ehud Barak, Israel's beleaguered Prime Minister, was bracing himself last night for a stormy return of a hostile Knesset today after so far failing to seal a deal to form an emergency government.

Ehud Barak, Israel's beleaguered Prime Minister, was bracing himself last night for a stormy return of a hostile Knesset today after so far failing to seal a deal to form an emergency government.

Weekend talks did not produce an agreement with Ariel Sharon, the bullish ex-general who leads the right-wing Likud party, leaving Mr Barak to face a chamber knowing that two-thirds of its members oppose him. Observers are expecting an angry session, especially when Mr Barak speaks, as the parliament unleashes its rage over the month-long Palestinian intifada, and the events that led up to it.

As street battles continued in the occupied territories yesterday, another three Palestinians died, adding to list of around 140 fatalities in a month, almost all of them Arabs, most shot by the Israeli army.

The unrest has, however, allowed Mr Barak to buy time. Opposition parties appear to have lifted a threat to bring down the government at once, for fear of being accused by voters of destabilising the country at a time of crisis.

This leaves him with three main options: to try to cobble together a new coalition without Likud based on the one that collapsed in July; to call early elections; or to create an emergency government, in which Mr Sharon would be prominent.

Although Mr Barak said that a deal with Likud was getting closer, the negotiations appear to have snared on a demand by Mr Sharon for the right of veto on diplomatic and security issues - including any resumed talks with the Palestinians - which Mr Barak has refused.

The prospect of a return to high office of Ariel Sharon, who as defence minister led Israel in 1982 into its disastrous war in Lebanon, and was found partly to blame for the Sabra and Chatila refugee camp massacres, has caused consternation in Israel and beyond.

The Arab world is more hostile to him than ever because of his visit to the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount) last month, which sparked the intifada. Israeli liberals and several of

Mr Barak's closest allies believe an emergency government including Mr Sharon would be a disaster for the Prime Minister and could mean the end of his political career.

They say Mr Barak was voted in by a landslide in 1999 on the promise of peace - a condition few believe a government with Mr Sharon can deliver in the current climate. A significant portion of Likud is also opposed to a unity government.

However, the two leaders may see the alliance as the only way of blocking the return of their common rival, former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is soaring ahead in opinion polls as Israeli public opinion veers to the right.

Mr Barak is in a highly precarious position. Without anything close to a majority, Mr Barak will have difficulty with day-to-day legislation. A vote of no confidence could come at any time. As a reporter for Israel's Army Radio said: "The countdown for the Barak government has begun."

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