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Israeli election is a dead heat

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May 28, 1996
Web posted at: 2:10 p.m. EDT (1810 GMT)

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- The race for Israel's prime minister is too close to call, according to opinion polls released Tuesday on the eve of elections.

Two separate surveys suggest opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu has come within 3 percentage points of Prime Minister Shimon Peres.


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Peres received 51.5 percent of the vote, while Netanyahu took in 48.5 percent. The two surveys hold a 3 percent margin of error.

The general voting begins Wednesday morning for what Peres has described as "the most crucial election in the history of the state of Israel."

For the first time, Israelis will directly elect their leader. They also will cast separate ballots for a political party running for parliament.

Israeli soldiers, meanwhile, streamed to polling booths Tuesday in Gaza Strip, the West Bank and southern Lebanon. The ballot boxes are to be flown to parliament for the vote count Wednesday night.

While soldiers voted, both candidates hit the campaign trail, hoping to pick up last-minute support. They visited towns in south and central Israel before wrapping up their campaigns.

Peres won the backing of the Arab party Hadash, which accounts for about one-fifth of the Arab vote. Israeli Arabs initially were reluctant to back him because of recent air and artillery strikes in Lebanon. Dozens of Lebanese civilians were killed.

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Netanyahu secured much of the backing of ultra-Orthodox Jews when several major rabbis urged their followers to vote for the Likud Party leader.

Netanyahu said many "undecided" voters also will cast their ballots for him.

"I think they've already decided. They just won't say they've decided. You'll see that tomorrow night," he said.

Swing votes will play a crucial role in the balloting. One in six voters will cast ballots for the first time. In recent years, younger voters have leaned to the right. Also, hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union are expected to vote, although it is unclear whom they support.

Another telling factor could come from the Likud Party. Some indications show that long-time Likud supporters may back Peres' peace policies.

As the election draws near, police are beefing up security around polling stations. About 24,000 soldiers, police and volunteer civil guards will be on duty, police said.

The November assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the threat of Islamic suicide bombings prompted the intense security.

From CNN Correspondent Jerrold Kessel, Reuters and the Associated Press.

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