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Less than three weeks before the election of a new Kadima leader, Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz has racheted up his criticism of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who leads Mofaz and two others in the race.

"Livni is not loyal," Mofaz told Haaretz in an interview, after a threat by one of her supporters, Finance Minister Roni Bar-On, that a Mofaz win would cause Livni and her ranks to bolt the party. (See full interview in tomorrow's paper)

Recent polls predict that Mofaz will lose his bid to head the party.

Mofaz said Livni is identified with integrity "because she is always coming out against [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert. But the voters do not want a disloyal leadership, and Livni. When your number two is breathing down your neck, that places further burdens on you and makes it difficult for you to function. That is what she did to Olmert."

According to Mofaz, after the publication of the Winograd Committee's interim report on the Second Lebanon War, Livni "wanted to take 10 MKs and leave the party. She called on Olmert to resign but refused to resign herself. After the Talansky story came out, she said there was no need to wait for testimony, that what was published was enough. And what did I say? That every person has the presumption of innocence, and that we must wait for justice to take its course."

Livni's campaign headquarters responded: "We have not stooped and we will not stoop to the level of personal vilification." It added that "the important thing is to work for unity in Kadima and to restore the public's faith in it."

Mazal Mualem adds: Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's political adviser, Shlomo Yitzhak, whose work with Olmert has given him close ties to major grassroots Kadima activists, is helping Mofaz's campaign. Among Yitzhak's connections are a number of mayors, whom Mofaz hopes will give him the numbers he needs to overcome Livni by persuading their supporters to vote for Mofaz.