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Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Wednesday slammed his party's decision to convene the Likud Central Committee next month, saying that the move was aimed at removing him from the premiership and as party chairman.

"This is the first time that a ruling party, the Likud, that has more than a year left to lead the country, is ready to give up the leadership because of the personal ambitions of one of its former ministers and out of hatred and vengeance," Sharon said, referring to MK Benjamin Netanyahu who on Tuesday announced he was running for the top position in Likud.

In an interview with Israel Radio, the first since Netanyahu's announcement, Sharon said that he was the one who founded the Likud Party and that he intended to run as the party's candidate for prime minister.

Sharon also ruled out the possibility of further withdrawals in the West Bank unless the Palestinians manage to bring a complete halt to terrorism, dismantle terror groups and end incitement against Israel.

Sharon went on to say that Israel kept its right to defend itself and can therefore hold means to deter its enemies.

Netanyahu: PM's policies put Jerusalem in dangerEarlier on Wednesday, Netanyahu launched his campaign with a verbal assault on Sharon, accusing him of promoting policies that threatened the future of Jerusalem.

"Sharon has created a precedent which is likely to lead to the division of Jerusalem," Netanyahu told reporters during a tour of E1 - the area between the West Bank settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim and the capital.

"Jerusalem is in danger, and Sharon is making [the threat] greater. He determined that Jews should be uprooted to the 1967 lines from Gush Katif [in Gaza] to the southern outskirts of Ashkelon. The second threat he poses is that he is the one who delayed the construction between Ma'aleh Adumim and Jerusalem."

Netanyahu issued a call to build 5,000 housing units in the area. He argued that such a neighborhood would determine whether Israel or the Palestinians will control the eastern heights adjacent to the holy city.

"The time has come to build here and I will build here," Netanyahu told reporters on the rocky hillside.

Netanyahu said that Sharon should have done much more on the ground to assure that the area stays in Israeli hands.

"We have seen on the hills that not a single home is being built by Israelis. The Palestinians have started building houses," Netanyahu said near Ma'aleh Adumim. "That is something that will change when we return the real Likud to power."

Netanyahu quit the government and his position as finance minister earlier this month, citing his opposition to the disengagement plan.

Washington has expressed concerns over the concept of construction E1. Israel has already announced plans to build a police station in the area.

Landau blasts Sharon's policiesMK Uzi Landau, who is running for the Likud leadership, on Wednesday evening inaugurated together with dozens of supporters his campaign headquarters. During the ceremony in Bnei Brak, Landau blasted Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's policies and government corruption.

According to Landau, Sharon removed the Likud party from the government by ignoring the party's will. Sharon "converted his political religion. We will not allow him to spread his missionary religion in our home," Landau, who had led the Likud 'rebels' during the months leading to the disengagement, said.

"If we run in the coming elections under the current leadership, we will be dealt a hard blow, beyond any doubt. We will lose between five to 10 seats and this may be optimistic," Landau predicted.

"Many see themselves betrayed and others think we have corrupted our political views. The public wants a descent leadership and not one that deceives," he went on to say.

Referring Ehud Barak's call for the Labor Party to rally behind Shimon Peres as the party's candidate for the premiership, Landau said "they already have a prime minister called Ariel Sharon. Is the Likud the ruling party today? There is no point for a party to be in power if it does not promote its goals."

Landau placed a Mezuzah taken from the front door of the home of the secretary of the evacuated Gaza settlement of Atzmona, Zevulun Kalfa.

Related links:

  • Coverage of the 2003 elections
  • Editorial: The only plan
  • Opinion: Sharon's loss would be Israel's gain