In the fevered atmosphere of Israel’s Likud party, opponents of Ariel Sharon – led by challenger Benjamin Netanyahu – are accused of hitting below the belt to try and silence the Prime Minister at a top level party meeting.
As Sharon tried to address the forum his microphone was cut-off twice before hecould get a word out.
Aides said opponents of the Sharon-backed Gaza pullout had sabotaged the sound system.
The angry scenes were broadcast live on television to bemused Israeli’s across the country.
Likud is due to vote today on a motion by Netanyahu, Sharon’s rightist challenger, to bring the party’s leadership election forward to November.
“I think Sharon should pay for misleading me and thousands of people who voted for him by doing this disengagement against his promises in the elections and against the ideology of the Likud”, said one man watching television in a bar.
But some are not very sympathetic to Netanyahu either. As finance minister he originally backed the Gaza pullout but then changed his mind and resigned. His motives now are seen as opportunistic.
If the vote goes against Sharon there is speculation that he may leave Likud and form a new centrist alliance to tap into mainstream support for the Gaza pullout. If the 77-year-old leader did that polls suggest he would control two thirds of the seats in Israel’s parliament.
But unable to be heard above the din, Sharon stormed out of the meeting without making his thoughts known.