Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's bitter rival, Benjamin Netanyahu, launched a bid on Tuesday to topple him as Likud party leader, intensifying a power struggle sparked by the evacuation of Gaza settlers.
Likud polls show ex-finance minister Netanyahu would rout Sharon in a primary if it were held soon, stirring speculation Sharon may break away from rightists and forge a new centrist party to run in an election due by November 2006. Netanyahu, prime minister between 1996 and 1999, resigned in protest this month over Sharon's evacuation of all 21 Jewish settlements from Gaza and four of 120 in the West Bank under a U.S.-backed plan to "disengage" from conflict with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu, hero of hard-line nationalists in a Likud split over the pullout, says the move will imperil Israel by turning Gaza into an "independent terrorist base" rather than a model for Palestinian statehood as U.S.-led mediators hope, reports Reuters.
According to BBC, Mr Netanyahu told a news conference in Tel Aviv that Mr Sharon's actions were destroying their party.
"The Likud needs a leader who can unite the ranks... and take it to victory [in next year's election]," he said.
The former prime minister resigned as finance minister earlier month in protest at the Gaza Strip withdrawal.
Russian small missile ships - the Grad Sviyazhsk and the Great Ustyug - set off for a mission to the Mediterranean Sea