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Wednesday, September 15, 2004
SHARON FACES RIVAL [NETANYAHU] FOR U.S. SUPPORT

SHARON FACES RIVAL [NETANYAHU] FOR U.S. SUPPORT

TEL AVIV [MENL] -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, intent on launching
his plan for unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern West
Bank, faces a challenge from Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Israeli political sources said Netanyahu has been preparing the groundwork
to challenge Sharon for leadership of the ruling Likud Party. The sources
said Netanyahu, prime minister from 1996-1999, has sent an envoy for a
series of meetings with senior U.S. officials to discuss his political
agenda and Israeli relations with Washington.

"The message was that Netanyahu would serve U.S. interests better than
Sharon," a political source said. "Much of the effort is based on the
assumption that [President George] Bush would be reelected in November."

The sources said Netanyahu plans to challenge Sharon over the next few
months regarding the prime minister's intent to withdraw from the Gaza Strip
and northern West Bank and evacuate the 10,000 Israeli Jews in these areas.
They said Netanyahu has concluded that the plan could tear apart society as
well as the military. The Israel Defense Forces has been authorized to carry
out what was expected to be a forced evacuation.
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