Sharon throws down gauntlet for top job

JERUSALEM (Reuter) - Ariel Sharon, the Israeli right-winger, split the foundering opposition Likud party yesterday by launching a campaign to unseat the Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, in elections scheduled for 1996.

Mr Sharon's announcement that he would run in Israel's first direct election of a prime minister was a challenge to Likud's new leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, who is struggling to mount effective opposition to Mr Rabin's peace deal with the PLO.

Mr Sharon, 66, spearheaded Israel's controversial invasion of Lebanon 1982. He said he would remain in Likud but try to head a front of right-wing parties. 'I am making preparations to contest the prime minister's office in the 1996 elections,' he told Israel radio. The former general cited his experience fighting in Israel's wars as preparation for the premiership.

'Arik Sharon is a permanent subversive,' Mr Netanyahu told army radio. 'The time has come for such a man to leave Likud.'