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Israeli leaders remain split on coalition

JERUSALEM — A meeting on Sunday between Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of Israel's conservative Likud Party and the country's next prime minister, and his main rival, Tzipi Livni of the centrist Kadima Party, ended without agreement on forming a coalition government.

Neither entirely ruled out the option of a unity government, and the leaders agreed to meet again. But Livni made it clear after the nearly two-hour private meeting at a Jerusalem hotel that little or no progress had been made.

After the meeting, she said "significant differences of opinion" remained. She said she had been unable to get Netanyahu to commit to advancing a two-state solution with the Palestinians, a central tenet of Kadima's platform. "Unity means promoting a common path," she said.

Livni has said she would rather go into the opposition than serve as a fig leaf for a right-wing government.

Netanyahu said after the meeting that he believed it was still possible to "bridge the gaps on various issues with good will." He has been recommending a plan for "economic peace" with the Palestinians before any political deal.

The nighttime meeting was the first between the leaders since the elections on Feb. 10. Both claimed victory: Kadima narrowly beat Likud, though Likud commanded a larger parliamentary bloc.

Netanyahu was chosen on Friday to form the next governing coalition after his party was able to muster a majority in parliament. Livni's party could not.

Hundreds exit Gaza

Hundreds of travelers left the blockaded Gaza Strip for Egypt on Sunday in one of the sporadic openings that enable students, patients and others with Egyptian visas to cross the border. By midafternoon Sunday, about 600 people had made the trip, border officials said.

Also Sunday, the bodies of four people were found in a smuggling tunnel under the Gaza-Egypt border. Medics said they suffocated.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Israeli leaders remain split on coalition 02/22/09 [Last modified: Sunday, February 22, 2009 11:39pm]
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