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Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Monday issued his harshest criticism as of yet of Benjamin Netanyahu, one of his opponents for Likud party chairman.

"Benjamin Netanyahu is prone to stress. He panics and loses his cool - and a person like this cannot lead a country," Sharon said on the Channel 10 TV program, "London and Kirschenbaum," which aired Monday night at 7 P.M.

Sharon said that Netanyahu was "not fit to lead a government - certainly not a government like Israel's. Here one needs calm."

He said Netanyahu "had fled from his responsibilities" when he resigned from the government out of opposition to the disengagement, less than one week before the presentation of the state budget and after having already voted in favor of the pullout.

"Israel is a unique country and one needs good judgment and nerves of steel to lead it. Netanyahu has neither of these two things," Sharon added.

Sharon also said that now is not the time to enter into negotiations with the Syrians.

Likud Central Committee to conveneThe Likud Tribunal on Monday rejected claims by Sharon's camp that there were forgeries in the list of signatories calling for a meeting of the Likud Central Committee.

Following the tribunal's decision, there are no longer any hinderences preventing the convention of the Central Committee. The tribunal will soon determine the date for the meeting.

Sharon and his aides have been making last-minute efforts to delay the meeting, which would discuss bringing forward the party primaries, out of fear that the committee would decide to call for early elections.

At the same time, Sharon's rivals, Benjamin Netanyahu and Uzi Landau, had been drumming up support for holding the central committee meeting. The two had opposed attempts by party secretary Tzachi Hanegbi to work out a compromise arrangement.

There is a great deal of tension in the Likud and Sharon's close supporters are preparing for a legal battle within the party should a decision be made to move up the primaries.

The Likud's legal counsel, Eitan Haberman, had claimed that there were irregularities in the lists of signatories calling for the meeting. The Tribunal sent an investigator to look into any irregularities.

Some 46 members have said in sworn affidavits that they did not support the meeting. The affidavits were transferred from Sharon's bureau to Hanegbi, who gave them to the tribunal last week. If the 46 signatures are invalidated, there will not be a sufficient number (20 percent) to allow a central committee meeting to convene.

However, the Likud "rebels" have managed to get 20 of those who signed the affidavits to say they did so under duress and are now once again in favor of holding the central committee meeting - which would mean that there are enough signatories to allow it, regardless of other forged signatures.

The Likud "rebels" are pushing to hold the primaries early, and in effect, to depose Sharon. If a decision is made to hold the primaries early, the race for Likud leadership could take place as early as November.

Sharon's aides had said that even a brief delay in the committee meeting would have helped them convince MKs and ministers that if Sharon loses the party leadership, elections will be moved up and many of them could lose their coveted seats, instead of holding on to them for another year. The aides also point to a dangerous precedent of toppling a prime minister who is still in power.