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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sharon Pulled From Prime Time

JERUSALEM -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's scandal-plagued election campaign faced mounting problems Friday after a news conference in which he denied wrongdoing and assailed his main rival was yanked off the air.

Israeli media slammed Sharon over Thursday'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 Jan. 28 election.

The scandal has in the past week sharply cut the formidable lead his Likud party has been enjoying in opinion polls over the main opposition center-left Labor Party, led by Amram Mitzna.

The choice voters make between Sharon and Mitzna could determine the course of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Sharon favors a strong military approach against a Palestinian uprising for independence. Mitzna offers an unconditional resumption of peace talks.

Before the news conference was cut off, Sharon charged that Labor and its supporters had, for political motives, spread "vicious gossip" about him, his family and Likud.

At the news conference, Sharon lashed out at Mitzna, mayor of the northern city of Haifa, and accused him of shady links with Israeli businessmen, allegations Labor officials deny.

The decision to pull the plug on Sharon's prime-time speech was an embarrassment for him three weeks before an election that until days ago he had seemed on course to win easily.

Election commission chairman Mishael Heshin, a supreme court judge, accused Sharon of using the speech to campaign in violation of election rules that strictly limit air time.

 Sharon on Sunday dismissed an appeal by Yasser Arafat for a halt to attacks on Israeli civilians, calling it a ploy to boost the chances of Sharon's dovish challenger in Jan. 28 elections.

A Palestinian Cabinet statement on Saturday condemned "all acts of violence that target Palestinian and Israeli civilians" and added: "As the Israeli election date gets closer, we appeal to all our people to practice self-restraint."