Sharon demands powerful role in Israel government

Middle East: Beleaguered Barak could be thrown out of office next week as Likud raises the price of co-operation and threatens to force elections
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The Independent Online

The stakes were raised sharply yesterday in the jockeying for power in conflict-torn Israel when the opposition Likud leader, Ariel Sharon, issued an ultimatum to the beleaguered Prime Minister, Ehud Barak.

The stakes were raised sharply yesterday in the jockeying for power in conflict-torn Israel when the opposition Likud leader, Ariel Sharon, issued an ultimatum to the beleaguered Prime Minister, Ehud Barak.

The message was stark: either forge an emergency government of national unity, including Likud, or face being thrown out of office when the Knesset returns next week.

Mr Barak - whose previous coalition government collapsed in July - has been trying to pressure Yasser Arafat into ending the Palestinian uprising by threatening to form an emergency government that would include the Likud leader.

Mr Sharon - who is demanding that power is shared equally between right and left in the proposed new government - reportedly told party members yesterday that he would topple the Barak government and go to new elections if there was no agreement.

Desperate for political allies, Mr Barak held talks with smaller parties, in the hope of cobbling together a coalition without Mr Sharon - "Friends, this is a time of emergency, and in an emergency brothers walk together," he told Israel radio.

Mr Sharon is hated in the Arab world, partly because of his prominent role in the Sabra and Chatila refugee camp massacres in Beirut in 1982, but also because he triggered the current round of bloodshed with a highly insensitive visit to the Haram al-Sharif, or Temple Mount, in Jerusalem. His inclusion in government would end all hopes of peaceful negotiations with the Palestinians.

The political crisis comes amid warnings from Israeli commanders that they are preparing for "prolonged confrontation". The 27th day of the uprising saw three more Palestinian deaths yesterday, including a 13-year-old boy, Iyad Shaath.

The protests widened into Jordan, where anti-riot police fired tear gas to drive back more than 20,000 anti-Israeli demonstrators along the border area overlooking the occupied West Bank. They had gone there to protest against Israel and to rally for the right of return of Palestinian refugees, many of whom live in Jordan.

The demonstrators urged Jordan's King Abdullah to open the border along the Jordan River which overlooks Jerusalem to the West, to allow guerrillas to attack Israel. "Give us weapons and we will give our souls to Palestine in return," chanted angry youths.

The West Bank and Gaza Strip were still under total closure, a week after the Sharm el-Sheikh summit at which US Bill Clinton extracted a pledge from Israel to take "immediate" steps to reopen the borders.In the week since the ceasefire was agreed, but never signed, some 30 people have died, almost all Palestinians shot by Israeli troops.

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