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Suicide bombings scar Peres' political ambitions

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May 28, 1996
Web posted at: 3:00 p.m. EDT (1900 GMT)

From Correspondent Brent Sadler

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- As Israeli voters cast their ballots for prime minister Wednesday, the fear of more terrorist attacks may strongly influence their choice.

In February and March, militant Islamic suicide bombers killed 59 people in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The carnage not only shocked the nation, but it inflicted a severe blow to the re-election hopes of Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

Rabin's coffin

Early in the year, Peres enjoyed a 20 percent lead in opinion polls. On the eve of the election, he holds only a 3 percent lead over Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

Besides terrorist attacks, Peres also has been dodged by the November assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and his ongoing conflict with Hezbollah militants in Lebanon. He has pushed for a Mideast peace, and Israeli voters are torn between supporting that aim and seeking national security.

"I am afraid to travel in the bus. I am afraid to walk in the street," one man said about the latter.

But another, speaking of the larger issue of peace, observed, "The bombing is a difficult part of the peace process. Perhaps it is the price we must pay for peace."

Such sentiments are repeated throughout Israel.

The suicide bomb in Tel Aviv left Dan Shlomi paralyzed, and he blames his injuries on Peres' peace policy.

Shlomi

Netanyahu has played off Israelis' fear of terrorism and has gained much support in the process.

Gerald Steinberg, an Israeli political analyst, explained Netanyahu's tactic: "The peace process is supposed to give us land for peace. The question was, 'Where is the peace?' That really put Peres on the defensive."

Peres' Labor Party has countered the attacks by emphasizing his four decades of political experience. They also note he is carrying out Rabin's dream for Middle East peace.

Meanwhile, the candidates' respective approaches to dealing with the Palestine Liberation Organization and the process of peace in the Middle East will continue to divide the nation, regardless of the election result.

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