Sharon Camp Fears Political Damage from Kassam Attack

Aides to PM Sharon fear Saturday's rocket attack will cost him votes in Monday's Likud party ballot on when to hold a leadership vote. Netanyahu responded to the attack: "That's what I predicted."<BR><br/>

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Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu, | updated: 23:24

Likud Minister without portfolio Tzachi Hanegbi said the barrage of Kassam rockets would not influence the party's Central Committee members, who are to meet on Sunday and vote the following day on whether to advance the Likud’s internal elections.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wants the party’s leadership vote to be held as scheduled next April. Binyamin (Bibi) Netanyahu and Knesset Member Uzi Landau, who are running to replace Sharon, want the vote to take place as early as possible, which would be in late November, according to the party rules.

Likud MK Roni Bar-On said he expected Netanyahu to exploit the rocket attack, but added that criticism is out of place because the government surrendered the Gaza region to improve Israel's security and ability to respond to terrorist attacks.

Netanyahu fulfilled Bar-On's expectations and criticized Sharon for the unilateral expulsion of Jewish residents and military withdrawal from Gush Katif and northern Gaza, which he said has turned Gaza in to "an Islamic terror base." Netanyahu spoke on Israel Channel 2 television's Meet the Press program.

"That’s what I predicted… I told the government [not to] give away the Philadelphi route, and they told me I was fear-mongering," he stated. "The problem is we gave, we uprooted…and didn’t get anything in exchange." He continued to attack Sharon sharply, accusing him of "burying his head in the sand in the face of threats from Gaza."

Netanyahu said he would not try to replace Sharon by lobbying the Knesset to oust him as Prime Minister unless he quits the Likud Party. Sharon made no pubic statements Saturday and concentrated efforts to influence mayors and Likud activists to support his position in Monday's vote.

Polls have given Sharon's opponents a slight edge on the vote to advance the leadership elections.