Shimon Peres decides to leave Labor

Shimon Peres has decided to leave the Labor Party and join Ariel Sharon's next government, a senior Sharon adviser said Tuesday. The adviser, Lior Horev, said Peres will not join Sharon's new party, Kadima. "Tomorrow, he (Peres) will have a news conference," Horev said. "He will leave the Labor Party ... and will join the Sharon government and deal with the (development of) Galilee and the Negev," Horev said, referring to two outlying areas of Israel. Peres was in Barcelona on Tuesday and could not be reached for comment. His spokesman, Yoram Dori, declined comment when asked whether Peres has made a decision. "I'm not prepared to discuss it," Dori said.

Earlier Tuesday, a Labor lawmaker, Dalia Itzik, announced she is joining Sharon's new party. Itzik is close to Peres, and a senior Labor official said her departure signaled that her mentor Peres would do the same.

"It looks like a package deal," party secretary-general Eitan Cabel told Army Radio. "We spoke about their remaining (in Labor) and not defecting to another party, but apparently things were already sealed, and the talks with us were nothing but a smokescreen."

Peres lost the leadership of the Labor Party earlier this month and has not said if he would leave the party for Sharon's ahead of March 28 elections.

"The decision is a tough one for me," he said in remarks broadcast Monday before leaving Israel for an EU-Mediterranean summit in Barcelona, Spain. "It will take another day or two before I decide." Itzik later told Army Radio that Peres is really torn. "It could turn out that he will be in one place and I will be in another," she said, reports the AP. I.L.

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