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The BBC's Jon Leyne in Jerusalem
"A further sign of the growing desperation in Mr Barak's attempt to win the Israeli election"
 real 28k

Sunday, 31 December, 2000, 00:14 GMT
Barak: It's me or war
Palestinian funeral
More than 350 people have died in the uprising
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has issued a stark warning ahead of elections in February, telling the country that it faces a choice between his leadership and war.

The warning, broadcast in a Russian television interview, comes as opinion polls suggest that Mr Barak is trailing behind his right-wing rival, Ariel Sharon, who has pledged tougher negotiations with the Palestinians.

The real choice is Barak and war. I don't want to put Sharon off peace, but [it's] Barak or war

Ehud Barak

Mr Barak said: "I will win this election.

"The real choice is Barak and war. I don't want to put Sharon off peace, but [it's] Barak or war."

If elected, Mr Sharon has said he would seek a long-term peace deal with the Palestinians to be implemented over several years, rather than trying to resolve the most sensitive issues now such as the status of Jerusalem, as his rival has tried to do.

The BBC Jerusalem correspondent, Jon Leyne, says the prime minister's efforts to win the election are becoming increasingly desperate, as behind-the-scenes contacts with the Palestinians are failing to produce the peace compromise vital to Mr Barak's hopes.

Amid continuing sporadic violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the main Palestinian faction, Fatah, has called for two weeks of intensified protests to mark the 36th anniversary of the founding of the group.

The continuation of the intifada is the only way, the only method, of achieving independence

Fatah said the protests would usher in the year of Palestinian independence.

The Israelis and Palestinians are currently deadlocked over peace proposals put forward by US President Bill Clinton.

On Saturday, Fatah spoke of Palestinians' "utter rejection" of the new proposals.

"The continuation of the intifada is the only way, the only method, of achieving independence," Fatah declared.

Positions harden

According to the Israeli press, the Clinton plan proposes that 95% of the West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip be handed over to the Palestinians, along with east Jerusalem's Arab neighbourhoods.

Ehud Barak
Ehud Barak is trailing his right-wing rival in opinion polls
In return, the 3.7 million Palestinian refugees would have to waive their right of return.

But the peace drive stumbled on Friday, when the two sides staked out opposing positions over the right of return for Palestinian refugees and control over Jerusalem.

Mr Barak said his government would never sign an agreement that recognised the right of Palestinians to return to homes lost in 1948.

Nor would it transfer sovereignty over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem - which Palestinians call the Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary).

But the Palestinians have reiterated demands for full sovereignty over Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, and for the refugee issue to be settled in line with United Nations resolutions.

Behind the scenes

Our correspondent says that, despite the deadlock, contacts are continuing on many levels behind the scenes, including phone calls from President Clinton to politicians in the region.

Yasser Arafat
Arafat is gauging Arab opinion ahead of an Arab League summit
Israel's Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami on Saturday spoke with the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan and updated them on Israel's stance.

For the Palestinians, Yasser Arafat is in Tunisia to discuss the latest peace proposals with the Tunisian President, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.

Correspondents say Mr Arafat is gauging Arab leaders' views on the American peace plan in the run-up to an Arab League meeting to discuss the Palestinian situation.

More than 350 people have been killed in the past three months during an upsurge in Palestinian protests against the Israeli occupation and what the Palestinians see as Israeli intransigence over peace process issues.

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