JERUSALEM, Jan. 26 (JTA) — Israel’s election campaign headed into the home stretch with ongoing violence in the Gaza Strip providing a dire reminder of the pressing issues the next government will face. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Likud Party is maintaining its strong lead in the polls. But recent polling predictions had observers and politicians alike wondering whether Tuesday’s vote will result in a political impasse that will prevent the next prime minister from carrying out any definitive policy. Indeed, some of them are so convinced that there will be an impasse that they have already begun talking about the nation’s next bout with early elections. Meanwhile, amid continuing violence, Israel imposed a total closure Sunday on the West Bank and Gaza Strip until after Tuesday’s elections. The measure is among the security steps being taken following warnings that Palestinian terrorists plan attacks on Election Day. Over the weekend, Israeli troops carried out two large-scale operations in the Gaza Strip in response to Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli communities within Gaza and inside Israel. At least 12 Palestinians were killed and dozens wounded during a clash with Israeli soldiers in Gaza City on Sunday. In what was described as the deepest military incursion into Gaza City in two years, Israeli troops targeted Palestinian weapons factories. During the operation, the soldiers came under heavy fire from Palestinian gunmen. Those killed included members of the Palestinian security forces and various militias, according to The Associated Press. A day earlier, Israeli forces destroyed four bridges in northern Gaza that the army said were used by terrorists to transport arms. That operation followed a Palestinian rocket attack last Friday on the Negev town of Sderot. And on Sunday, Palestinians fired mortars at Jewish communities in Gaza, but the shells landed in a Palestinian area. Shortly after the army withdrew from Gaza City earlier Sunday, Palestinians fired four rockets at Israeli communities in the Negev, but caused no injuries. In other violence Sunday, a 6-year-old Palestinian boy was killed by gunfire in southern Gaza, according to Palestinian sources. The boy’s younger brother was wounded in the incident, the sources added. Israeli army officials said there were no troop movements in the area at the time, and added that they were checking the report. Following the Israeli military operations in Gaza, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Israeli officials are discussing whether to retake control of Gaza. “We need to keep all our options open, including the option of taking over the Strip,” Mofaz told Israel Radio. Labor Party officials assailed the defense minister’s remarks, saying they provided proof of the Likud Party’s plan to reoccupy all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In a campaign that has been marked by corruption allegations, it was not immediately clear whether the weekend violence would have a significant impact on voter attitudes. Despite politicians’ vows to bring stability to the security-starved Israeli electorate, the emerging electoral math from recent polls has observers and politicians wondering how effective the government formed following Tuesday’s vote can be. Weekend polls showed Likud wining between 31 and 34 seats in the 120-member Knesset. But Likud officials are reportedly worried that unless the Likud gets at least 35 Knesset seats, Sharon will be unable to form a stable coalition, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported. A narrow, right-wing government could run into a brick wall on economic and diplomatic issues, leading to a need for early elections, some observers speculated. Labor Party leader Amram Mitzna, who reiterated over the weekend his determination not to join a national unity government, also appeared to have such a scenario in mind. “If we don’t succeed in these elections, we will succeed in the next ones,” he said. “I, as head of the opposition, will be there, ever day, every hour, in order to vote on the government’s missteps and bring about its fall as soon as possible.” Recent polls predicted Labor, which currently holds 25 seats, winning 18 or 19 seats. Critics maintain that Mitzna’s opposition to joining a unity government hurt his party’s chances among some centrist voters. At the same time, political infighting within Labor is believed to have put off other traditional voters. Despite the animosity that bubbled up between them during the campaign, Mitzna and former Labor leader Benjamin Ben-Eliezer campaigned together Sunday in a last-ditch effort to present a united front. Ben-Eliezer, who sat in the unity government under Sharon for two years before precipitating early elections last year by withdrawing from the government, denied speculation of a post-election defection by some Labor Party members to join a new Sharon-led unity government. “Sharon is dreaming dreams and planning plans. He talks about unity, but I can say that whoever talks about unity under Sharon is talking nonsense,” Ben-Eliezer said. “I can say that there are no contacts, no talks and no understandings with the Likud. No one will separate us. We will be a united and unified party after the elections.”
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