Israel's right wing wins big

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

JERUSALEM Israel's Likud and right-wing parties won a major victory in national elections and appear to have captured a majority of parliament.

The Likud Party won up to 36 out of the 120 seats in the Knesset, according to exit polls taken by Israel's two major television stations. The rival Labor Party won 18 seats, tied with the secular-oriented Shinui Party.

Channel 1 television reported that Likud won 36 seats, Labor, 18, with Shinui at 14 seats. The left-wing Meretz Party was reported at winning five seats.

"The balance appears to be 70-50 for the right-wing," Israeli political analyst Hanan Kristal said. "This does not include Shinui."

The right-wing parties expected to join the Likud Party maintained or increased their electoral strength, according to the exit polls. The exception was the Shas Party, which won 13 seats, down from 17 in the last elections. The National Union won eight seats and the National Religious Party and the United Torah Front won five seats each.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called for a coalition with the Labor Party. But Labor Party spokespeople said they would go into the opposition.

"If there is a difficult security position, we will be a responsible opposition," Ofer Pines, a senior Labor Party official, said, referring to the prospect of a U.S.-led war against Iraq.

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