Israelis are beginning the process of choosing their next government, with voting in embassies around the world underway ahead of the election on March 28. The ballot is a crucial test of the political waters, with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in hospital in a coma and Hamas having claimed a surprise victory in the Palestinian elections. The latest opinion polls put interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the lead.
He is now heading up the Kadima party founded by Sharon late last year and surveys suggest his standing has been improved by the controversial operation to seize a radical Palestinian leader on Tuesday. Israel has been criticised for its perceived heavy-handed approach to the prison raid. Tanks and bulldozers effectively destroyed Jericho prison in the West Bank. Six Palestinians were arrested, among them Ahmad Saadat the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He has denied allegations he was involved in the assassination of an Israeli minister.