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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Likud May Struggle for Coalition

JERUSALEM -- Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's right-wing Likud party kept its firm lead in final opinion polls published Monday on the eve of Israel's general election, but looked set to struggle to form a stable coalition.

The surveys in the mass circulation Yedioth Ahronoth and Maariv newspapers showing Likud winning 32 to 33 seats in the 120-member parliament compared with 18 to 19 for its nearest rival, the center-left Labor Party.

The centrist Shinui party, shaping up as a kingmaker, was forecast to capture 15 to 16 seats.

Amid media reports that Sharon was busy scripting a victory speech, Israel clamped a blanket travel ban on Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, home to 3.5 million Palestinians, until Wednesday.

Israel, rocked by dozens of suicide bombings since the start in September 2000 of a Palestinian uprising for statehood, cited security concerns for the restrictions.

Sharon, 74, has made security and a refusal to negotiate peace with the Palestinians until anti-Israeli violence ends the bedrock of his election campaign.

In a final campaign appearance, Sharon pointedly held an election rally in Haifa, the northern city where Labor Party leader Amram Mitzna, 57, is mayor.

"I can fulfill my role only if we will have power in the Knesset," Sharon told supporters, setting his sights on a strong showing that would enable him to form a coalition whose survival would not be dependent on parties with fringe agendas.

"Extremist positions will not allow us to get where we need to get to. Therefore there is only one ticket -- Likud. All the rest are unstable tickets that mean more elections, which we don't need while terrorist attacks are taking place."

Twelve Palestinians were killed, at least eight of them gunmen, in an Israeli raid on Gaza City on Sunday after rockets fired from the Gaza Strip struck a town in southern Israel.

At least 1,802 Palestinians and 698 Israelis have been killed since the Palestinian revolt began.

The violence has caused many Israelis to shift to the right, strengthening Likud and ultranationalists.

A coalition government relying on the far right would put Israel at odds with U.S. policy on encouraging Palestinians to end violence and embark on reforms as a step to statehood and would be expected to struggle to survive for long.

Likud had originally been expected to win 40 parliamentary seats, but the figure dwindled over recent weeks as the party became embroiled in a series of corruption scandals.

In his Haifa address, Sharon repeated his call for Labor to join a national unity government he hopes to form.

But Mitzna, who advocates immediate peace talks with the Palestinians and unilateral pullouts from occupied land should they fail, again rejected the idea in a speech Sunday.

Likud showed its concern over the unstable outlook for its coalition efforts by announcing a new campaign slogan urging Israelis to vote Likud "or face elections again."