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Scam Sharon blacked out

Jerusalem, Jan. 10 (Reuters): Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's scandal-plagued election campaign faced mounting problems today after a news conference in which he denied wrongdoing and assailed his main rival was yanked off the air.

Israeli media slammed Sharon over yesterday’s televised appearance, abruptly cut off in an unprecedented move by a judge overseeing electoral procedure who said the Prime Minister’s political comments ran foul of broadcast regulations.

But it was not clear whether the controversy over a $1.5-million loan from a South Africa-based businessman to one of Sharon’s sons would in the long run reduce or rally support for the Right-wing leader in the January 28 election.

The scandal has sharply cut the formidable lead his Likud party has been enjoying in opinion polls over the main Opposition Centre-Left Labour Party, led by Amram Mitzna.

The choice voters make between the Sharon and his challenger could determine the course of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Sharon favours a strong military approach. Mitzna offers an unconditional resumption of peace talks.

Toughening its line against a Palestinian uprising for statehood, the Israeli army shut down three West Bank liaison offices where Palestinian security officers once consulted with their Israeli counterparts.

It called their continued operation pointless.

The closure of the District Coordinating Offices in the cities of Nablus, Tulkarm and Qalqilya left the DCO in Jericho, also in the West Bank, as the only one still functioning under interim peace deals shattered by the past 27 months of violence.

Israeli forces in Nablus demolished the family home of Darin Abu Eisha, leaving six of her relatives homeless.

Abu Eisha, who blew herself up at an Israeli checkpoint near Jerusalem last February, wounding three policemen, was one of four Palestinian women who have carried out suicide attacks during the revolt.

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