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Page last updated at 17:47 GMT, Wednesday, 30 July 2008 18:47 UK

Israeli PM's party leadership rivals

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has announced he will step down after his Kadima party chooses a new leader in September. Here are some of the key contenders to replace him.

TZIPI LIVNI

Tipped as most likely to replace Mr Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is currently his deputy and one of Israel's most popular politicians.

File photograph of Tzipi Livni
Ms Livni helped broker Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip
A former protege of Ariel Sharon, and daughter of a prominent right-wing political activist and former member of the militant Zionist organisation Irgun, Ms Livni has had a relatively short parliamentary career.

She was elected to the Knesset in 1999 for the Likud party, after a practising as a lawyer. Before that, she had a short-lived career in a classified post with Israel's intelligence agency, Mossad.

When Mr Sharon left Likud to set up Kadima in 2005, Ms Livni went with him.

She is viewed as one of the few centrists not tainted by corruption, and champions a vision of Israel co-existing with a Palestinian state.

However, critics argue that she lacks the military and political experience to lead the country.

SHAUL MOFAZ

Mr Mofaz is one of three deputy prime ministers and also the transport minister.

The Iranian-born former paratrooper moved into politics following a long military career. Rising to the post of chief of staff, he has been credited with helping to transform the Israeli army into the Middle East's mightiest fighting force.

File photograph of Shaul Mofaz
Mofaz has served under four different prime ministers

He directed some of Israel's most controversial military operations, including the March 2002 assault on Jenin and the demolition of Yasser Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah.

The former defence minister continues to be outspoken on security issues, recently telling an Israeli newspaper that a military strike on Iran to stop it developing nuclear weapons looked "unavoidable".

He also called for the resignation of the head of the UN nuclear watchdog, saying he had endangered world peace by neglecting Iran's nuclear programme.

AVI DICHTER

The son of Holocaust survivors, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter served in an elite unit of the Israeli army under Ehud Barak.

He later joined Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service, rising to become its director in 2000.

He left in 2005, briefly working as a research fellow in the US, before returning to Israel and entering politics with the newly establish Kadima party.

Mr Dichter is a controversial figure to many Palestinians, as it was while he was head of Shin Bet that Israel bombed a Hamas commander's home, killing him, his wife and nine children and a number of others.

Last year, Mr Dichter cancelled a visit to the UK when the government said it was unable to grant him immunity from an application from a campaign group to have him arrested for war crimes.

MEIR SHEETRIT

Moroccan-born Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit started his political career as mayor of Yavneh.

He was elected to the Knesset in 1981, where he has served ever since except for a four-year spell in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

He says he favours talks with Hamas if they renounce their aim of the destruction of Israel, and earlier this year he announced plans to build a new Arab city in the north of Israel.

More controversially, he has called for a tightening of the law that grants Jews around the world Israeli citizenship.

He also told fellow cabinet members after a rocket attack on Israel from Gaza that they should pick a neighbourhood in Gaza, give the inhabitants 24 hours to leave and "wipe it out".


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