The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sharon party wins, coalition bid begins

Jerusalem, March 29 (Reuters): Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert began building a coalition today after winning Israel’s election on plans to impose final borders with the Palestinians by uprooting many West Bank settlements.

Appealing to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Olmert said in a post-election speech that Israel was ready to live alongside the Palestinians in peace after decades of conflict.

But in the absence of peace talks ' a remote prospect with Hamas Islamist militants taking office ' Olmert has vowed to set Israel’s frontier by 2010 by removing isolated settlements in the occupied West Bank and expanding bigger blocs there.

Olmert’s centrist Kadima party fared worse than expected in yesterday’s poll, signalling he might struggle to sustain support for his plan. Kadima’s showing of 28 seats in the 120-member parliament was among the lowest for an election winner.

But some political analysts said Olmert should be able to stitch together a coalition that would avoid the need to negotiate with Right-wing parties opposed to any withdrawal from West Bank land that settlers see as a biblical birthright.

“I think we can run a government with 28 seats. It will be difficult, but possible,” elder statesman and senior Kadima politician Shimon Peres said on Army Radio.

Besides Kadima, election results showed Centre-Left Labour with 20 seats, the ultra-Orthodox Shas with 13, ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu with 12 and Right-wing Likud with 11. Opinion polls had originally predicted Kadima would win 44 seats.

Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon founded Kadima before suffering a stroke in January that sent him into a coma.

Olmert was expected to seek a coalition with Labour and small parties, in talks expected to last for weeks. Some religious parties and one representing pensioners could back his West Bank plan.

Maya Jacobs, a Kadima spokeswoman, said unofficial coalition talks with leading parties including Labour had begun. Arab leaders expressed dismay at the election result, after renewing their own offer of peace-for-land through international mediation.

Hamas government

Abbas swore in a Hamas government today, handing the Islamic militant group an administration on the brink of financial collapse and fighting western isolation.

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