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Sharon's party hurt by charges of corruption ahead of election


JERUSALEM (AP) _ Polls showed support continuing to slip away from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Likud Party ahead of Jan. 28 elections, and police said Friday that charges were being considered against several Likud activists in a widening corruption scandal.

Police have completed investigations of four activists allegedly involved in arranging bribes during the Nov. 28 party primary that selected Likud's list of parliamentary candidates. Prosecutors will now have to decide whether to file charges, said police spokesman Gil Kleiman.

The scandal is overshadowing key campaign issues: how to handle more than two years of fighting with the Palestinians and how to strengthen Israel's defense during a possible American-led strike against Iraq.

Friday's surveys show Likud losing nearly a quarter of its support, compared with polls last month, but indicate that the party and its hardline allies will win enough seats to form a government, giving Sharon another term in office.

A poll published in the Yediot Ahronot newspaper showed Likud winning 32 out of the 120 seats in Israel's parliament. Surveys in early December predicted the party would get 40 seats, making it by far the largest party. The party's main rival, Labor, has held steady in polls, with 22 seats. The Dahaf polling company questioned 548 adults this week and quoted a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.

In other political developments, Israel's Central Election Commission ruled that Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz cannot run for parliament. Mofaz, a former military chief of staff, has not been a civilian long enough to qualify for the election.

In the West Bank, Israeli troops blew up two-story house of the leader of the violent Islamic Jihad group in the West Bank town of Hebron on Friday. The army, which arrested Mohammed Barawsheh half a year ago, accuses him of recruiting attackers and funding terror gangs.

Israel's military routinely demolishes the homes of suicide bombers and others thought to be behind attacks on Israelis. Palestinians say it's a form of collective punishment.

Elsewhere in the West Bank, hundreds of Palestinian detainees rioted at the Ofer army base near the town of Ramallah late Thursday, setting fire to mattresses and tents and trying to topple a perimeter fence. A military spokeswoman said it took several hours for soldiers firing tear gas to suppress the rioters at the camp, which holds 714 prisoners.

Among those at Ofer are about 100 held without trial or charges, in so-called administrative detention. The Israeli human rights group B'tselem said says Israel is holding 1,007 Palestinians without charges, the largest number in more than a decade and a sharp increase from last year.

The group says Israel is violating international law by using the practice on such a wide scale, arbitrarily and in cases where there are only slight suspicions against people. The army says administrative detentions are an important tool in the fight against terrorism.
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