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The BBC's Orla Guerin
"To the Palestinians everyone killed by the Israelis is a martyr"
 real 56k

The BBC's Nick Childs in Israel
"Appearances belie the facts - Prime Minister Barak is trailing badly in the polls"
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Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Interview with the BBC's David Frost
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Sunday, 4 February, 2001, 16:04 GMT
Barak battles for Arab vote
Ehud Barak
Mr Barak reaches out to key voter blocs
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, desperate to stave off a humiliating election defeat by rival Ariel Sharon, has appealed for support from Israeli Arabs who are threatening to boycott the vote.

The boycott has been called to protest at the deaths of 13 Israeli-Arabs, killed in clashes with police last October.


In my name and in the name of the government, I express sorrow over the death of Arab citizens

Ehud Barak
Chairing his last cabinet meeting before Tuesday's election, Mr Barak expressed sorrow at the deaths.

In a new blow to the prime minister's campaign, Mr Sharon - who has a strong lead in opinion surveys - on Sunday won the backing of ultra-Orthodox parties.

Although they did not mention the Likud leader by name, the ultra-Orthodox leaders called on voters to support "the candidate who it can be hoped will not destroy the religious situation in the Holy Land."

'Day of rage'

Most Israelis blame Mr Barak, who is trailing by between 17 and 20 percentage points, for the last few months of fighting.

In the Palestinian territories, militant groups and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction have called for a "day of rage" to coincide with the election.

A soldier stands in front of an Ariel Sharon poster
Ariel Sharon holds a seemingly invincible lead
Israeli soldiers helping with earthquake relief in India have already cast the first votes.

Mr Barak opened a weekend campaign blitz with a series of television interviews aimed at Arab-Israeli and Russian-Israeli voters.

He appealed to the Israeli-Arabs - who make up some 12% of the electorate - not to turn their backs on the election.

'Too late'

The prime minister told the community, which helped him win a landslide victory in 1998, that a government led by Mr Sharon would be unfavourable towards them.

The Likud challenger is reviled by Arabs for his days as a former army general, during which he orchestrated an invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

Orthodox Jews
Ultra-Orthodox Jews are being urged to vote for Mr Sharon
Mr Barak has paid several visits to Arab villages during his campaign for re-election

But prominent Arab-Israeli Member of Parliament Ahmed Tibi said he was still recommending that Arabs cast a blank ballot.

Mr Tibi, head of the Arab Movement for Change, described Barak's apology during the cabinet meeting as too little too late.

Russian vote

Russian immigrants make up nearly one-fifth of the voters, but some 30% are likely to cast blank papers or are undecided, according to latest opinion polls.


The importance right now is to bring people out to vote, and this is the concentration of the campaign

Barak campaigner
Highlighting the importance of this community, one analyst said on Sunday that since 1992, whoever the Russians had voted for had won the election.

The BBC's Jerusalem correspondent Hilary Andersson, says many in the community do not support his programme for peace, during which he has considered large territorial concessions to the Palestinians.

Netanyahu

On Sunday, Mr Barak's campaigners took to the streets around the country to woo undecided voters. They said their mission was to "colour the streets" with banners, posters, flyers and brochures.

The prime minister has cast the election as "a matter of life and death - simple as that".

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described the choice facing the electorate as peace through weakness or peace through strength.

Speaking on the BBC's Breakfast With Frost programme, the right-wing politician said a continuation of Mr Barak's policies could lead to war.

"He has offered unimaginable concessions to the Palestinians," he said, "and the response was interpreted as weakness."

He said most Israelis still want peace.

"They want a real peace and not a peace process that goes along with the daily murder of Israelis. They could not accept this, and that is what Mr Barak did accept. That is why they say you go - and he will go," Mr Netanyahu said.

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See also:

05 Feb 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
'Sly' Sharon evades reality
26 Jan 01 | Middle East
Arab fears over Sharon-Barak battle
01 Feb 01 | Media reports
Palestinians expect Sharon 'disaster'
26 Jan 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Israel's leadership battle
02 Jan 01 | Middle East
Barak's election gamble
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