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Barak, newcomer in runoff to head Israel's Labor Party

Published May 29, 2007


JERUSALEM - A former prime minister and a political newcomer who both pledge to bring down Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government will face each other in a runoff after an inconclusive vote for leadership of Israel's Labor Party, final results showed today.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak edged out Ami Ayalon, ex-head of the Shin Bet internal security agency, 36 percent to 31 percent in Monday's voting. While the victory marked an important milestone in Barak's political comeback, he fell short of the 40 percent threshold needed for an outright victory, setting up a June 12 runoff.

The current Labor leader, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, finished third with 22 percent.

Labor has served as the junior partner in Olmert's year-old government. But a victory by either Barak, 65, or Ayalon, 61, is expected to shake up that alliance. Both have called for Olmert's resignation in the wake of a critical government report on his performance during last summer's war in Lebanon.

Ayalon, a former navy chief, entered Parliament last year. He won support as a newcomer to the political scene, while also holding the security credentials demanded by Israeli voters.

He has pledged to lead the centrist Labor out of its partnership with Olmert if the prime minister's Kadima Party does not choose a new leader.

Barak served as prime minister from 1999 to 2001. He has said he would serve temporarily in an Olmert government, while pushing for early elections.

Also Monday, Israeli leaders authorized the army to intensify ground operations against Palestinians in Gaza who have been pounding border towns with rocket fire. Military officials said a major thrust into Gaza is not in the works.

[Last modified May 29, 2007, 01:39:01]

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