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Polls Show Ehud Barak Trailing Ariel Sharon in Election for Prime Minister

Aired February 2, 2001 - 2:37 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Israelis choose a new prime minister in less than four days. Polls show opposition leader Ariel Sharon holds a considerable lead over incumbent Ehud Barak. Still, many Israelis say they are still undecided.

As CNN's Fionnuala Sweeney reports, one issue dominates this campaign, and that is peace with the Palestinians.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak making a campaign stop in Tel Aviv. With just days before Israel's prime ministerial elections, opinion polls show him far behind his rival, Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon.

Mr. Barak has been under pressure to step aside in favor of his Labor Party colleague, Shimon Peres. Under Israeli law, parties can switch candidates up to four days before the election. But Ehud Barak chose to ignore a midnight deadline to stand down, leaving the country to choose between him and Ariel Sharon on Tuesday.

EHUD BARAK, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Maybe this will begin the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) comparing Israelis will have to make up their minds realizing that it's about their own fate and the fate of their families, their children and all of us.

SWEENEY: The Israeli prime minister's campaign is again being forced to answer questions about the government's ability to control violence after the killing of an Israeli Jewish motorist by Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank and the drive-by shooting death of another Israeli near Hebron.

And following the funerals of two Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in Gaza the day before and the shooting dead at Karni crossing of an 18-year-old Palestinian by Israeli forces Thursday, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement called for continued confrontation with Israel.

The Likud Party leader, Ariel Sharon, continuing his campaign, knowing he is the out-and-out favorite to become Israel's next prime minister.

ARIEL SHARON, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTERIAL CANDIDATE (through translator): I understand the importance of peace much better than a lot of politicians who talk about it. With me, peace will be a peace for generations and not a gimmick of the elections.

SWEENEY (on camera): Mr. Barak's focus between now and next Tuesday will be to try and galvanize as many disaffected left-wing supporters as he can to actually go out and cast their ballots. But opinion polls published Friday show him trailing Ariel Sharon by as much as 20 percent.

Ehud Barak's task is an uphill one.

Fionnuala Sweeney, CNN, Jerusalem.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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