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The BBC's Orla Guerin
"People are tired of all the promises of peace"
 real 28k

The BBC's Hilary Andersson in Jerusalem
"A large percentage of Israelis don't like either candidate"
 real 28k

Thursday, 1 February, 2001, 11:08 GMT
Barak defies doubters
Palestinian man by Sharon election banner
Ariel Sharon is a hate figure for many Palestinians
Israeli leader Ehud Barak has ruled out withdrawing from next week's prime ministerial elections.

There have been persistent rumours that Mr Barak, who is lagging behind in the polls, would step down in favour of veteran Labour politican, Shimon Peres.


The election race really starts at midnight Thursday when all this nonsense about my intention not to run will come to a halt

Ehud Barak

But Mr Barak, speaking ahead of a midnight deadline (2200GMT) for any changes in the candidates, said: "I will not withdraw. I will continue to the end and I will win."

Latest opinion polls again suggest that Mr Barak's rival, the right-winger Ariel Sharon, will easily beat Mr Barak, but would have a much tougher time against Mr Peres.

No comfort

Mr Barak, 58, added: "The election race really starts at midnight Thursday when all this nonsense about my intention not to run will come to a halt."

Ehud Barak
Barak: Failing to narrow poll gaps
But Mr Barak can have taken no comfort from yet another opinion poll, published on Thursday, that indicates he is failing to narrow the wide gap separating him from Mr Sharon whose hard-line stance on the peace process has struck a deep chord with Israeli voters.

The poll, conducted the Smith Institute, shows Mr Sharon 19 points ahead of Mr Barak, with a four point margin of error.

Previous polls put 77-year-old Mr Peres, who won the Nobel peace prize for his role in the 1993 Oslo peace accord, neck-and-neck with Mr Sharon.

Mr Peres failed in an earlier attempt to summon enough parliamentary support to be able to run as a third candidate in the election, which will be held on 6 February.

Summit talks

Israelis have become disillusioned with Mr Barak's leadership because of his failure to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians and the months of heavy violence that began last September in which hundreds have died.

Ariel Sharon, Likud leader
Sharon: Will ignore any deals

Both Palestinian and Israeli sources say Mr Barak may yet meet the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, this weekend in an attempt to reach a peace deal - widely seen as Mr Barak's only hope of winning the poll.

Mr Arafat met Israeli cabinet minister Amnon Lipkin-Sahak on Wednesday to discuss reducing violence in the region which has claimed the lives of

Last Sunday Mr Barak suspended peace talks until after the election, although both sides had reported considerable progress.

Mr Sharon has made it clear he will ignore any last-minute deal that Mr Barak might strike with Mr Arafat.

In the latest violence, Israeli troops shot dead 37-year-old Shaher Saber near the Jewish settlement of Netzarim in the Gaza Strip late on Wednesday. The army said he was one of two men trying to plant a bomb.

The death raised the toll to at least 377 killed since the Palestinian uprising began in late September against Israel's continued occupation of the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

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See also:

26 Jan 01 | Middle East
Arab fears over Sharon-Barak battle
01 Feb 01 | Media reports
Palestinians expect Sharon 'disaster'
01 Feb 01 | Middle East
Sharon victory inevitable, say papers
26 Jan 01 | Middle East
Peace issue dominates election
02 Jan 01 | Middle East
Barak's election gamble
28 Sep 00 | Middle East
Holy Jerusalem: The key to peace
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