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Car bomb injures 2 in west Jerusalem


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Sharon races deadline to form government

Labor leadership vacuum

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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- An apparent car bomb exploded in a Jewish suburb of western Jerusalem on Thursday, injuring two people, according to fire and police officials.

None of the injuries was serious, police said. Other bystanders were treated for shock. Israeli firefighters extinguished the car fire caused by the explosion in the ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood.

The blast came as Israel's right-wing prime minister-elect, Ariel Sharon, began meetings aimed at building a new coalition government following his overwhelming victory Tuesday over incumbent Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

Sharon capitalized on voter dissatisfaction with Barak's handling of four months of violence between Palestinians and Israelis, pledging to stamp out Palestinian violence and forge a peace between the Mideast adversaries that guaranteed Israel's security.

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But the Palestinians, who were also frustrated with Barak's policies, were equally wary of the hawkish Sharon's ascension to power. Some pledged to escalate the uprising that began on September 28.

Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, angry residents of Mea Shearim flooded into the streets to demonstrate against the violence, which they blamed on Palestinians. Some demonstrators carried posters calling for "Death to Arabs."

Sharon said the blast underlined the need for a unity government to end what he called "acts of terror," but Haim Ramon, a leading member of Barak's Labor Party, said the explosion underscored the need for a final peace agreement with the Palestinians, saying only that would put an stop to the violence.

Sharon races deadline to form government

Sharon, 72, began talks on Thursday with Labor Party officials in a bid to persuade them to join a broad unity government with a collective approach to peacemaking with the Palestinians.

A deal would allow the Likud leader to jump his first political hurdle by avoiding having to strike deals with extreme right-wing and religious groups as he rushes to meet a late March deadline to form a new government and pass the state budget -- or face new elections for both prime minister and parliament.

Tuesday's election was forced by Barak's surprise December 10 resignation and did not include members of the Israeli Knesset. Barak's resignation, however, pre-empted the Knesset's push to disband and call early elections.

Some Labor Party leaders have expressed interest in forming a coalition with Likud, and Labor Secretary General Raanan Cohen said the meeting on Thursday had been set up with six Labor party members.

But others, like Colette Avital, told CNN that she did not believe Likud had any "realistic proposals" for peace -- or "much desire to reach peace."

Labor leadership vacuum

Ramon said the task of drafting a joint platform on peacemaking with the Palestinians, over which Labor and Likud are deeply divided, might be impossible to achieve.

"I have many doubts we can reach a joint diplomatic platform, but I think we need to try," Ramon told Israel Radio.

Sharon's task has been made even more difficult by the disarray that has beset the Labor Party after its trouncing in the special elections -- in which Barak managed to secure only 37.4 percent of the vote, compared to 62.5 percent for Sharon, the worst performance by a prime ministerial candidate in Israel's history.

Barak resigned his leadership of the party and his seat in the Knesset after the election. He remains as caretaker prime minister until Sharon forms his government.

CNN Jerusalem Bureau Chief Mike Hanna contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
Sharon sets about building coalition
February 7, 2001
At least 2 dead as car bomb explodes in northern Israel town
November 22, 2000
Car bomb kills 2 in Jerusalem, but new truce deal still on
November 2, 2000

RELATED SITES:
Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Israeli Prime Minister's Office
Knesset, The Israeli Parliament
Likud
Avoda (Labour) Party
Israel Defense Forces

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