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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Labor Defends Record as Israel Braces for Vote

JERUSALEM -- Israel's Labor government Monday defended its record on security, the main issue in elections nine days away, and vowed that neither Iran nor Islamic militants would influence voting.


"We have never given in to them and we will not give in to them and the most important thing is that neither Tehran, nor Hamas, nor Hezbollah, nor Islamic Jihad ... will determine who will be the prime minister of Israel," Interior Minister Haim Ramon told parliament.


He was speaking during a stormy debate with the right-wing Likud opposition on security, called after guerrilla attacks in the West Bank and Lebanon.


Prime Minister Shimon Peres has accused Iran and Islamic groups of trying to bring down his government and derail Israeli-Arab peace efforts through a series of guerrilla attacks.


Palestinian Moslem guerrillas from Hamas and Islamic Jihad guerrillas killed 59 people in suicide bombings in Israel during nine days in February and March. The attacks wiped out Peres' huge lead over Likud challenger Benjamin Netanyahu and placed security at the center of campaigning for the May 29 polls.


Last month Peres' government launched an offensive dubbed "Operation Grapes of Wrath" against pro-Iranian Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon in retaliation for rocket attacks on northern Israel. During the 17-day offensive Israel killed more than 200 Lebanese civilians.


Peres at the time angrily rejected accusations from Likud that he launched the blitz to beef up his security credentials in the close race with Netanyahu.


Peres' lead now hovers at around 5 percentage points in opinion polls. Experts say another major guerrilla attack could be devastating for his campaign.


Army chief Lieutenant General Amnon Shahak told ministers at Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting that Islamic militants planned attacks before the election, Maariv newspaper said Monday.


He said security forces had received hundreds of warnings on pending attacks, the newspaper said. Shahak briefed ministers about the capture in Hebron on Friday of Hamas member Hassan Salameh, seen by Israel as the mastermind of four suicide bombings this year.


Netanyahu has based his challenge on security and opposition to peace deals that introduced Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.