Former Israeli PM Barak in new leadership bid

JERUSALEM Sun Jan 7, 2007 1:25pm GMT

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak launched a widely expected bid on Sunday to take over from a politically wounded Amir Peretz as Labour Party leader and defence minister.

"I made my share of mistakes and my inexperience hurt me," Barak, 64, wrote in a letter announcing his candidacy for Labour's leadership and its defence portfolio in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's coalition cabinet.

"I realise now there are no shortcuts and leadership is not a one-man show," Barak wrote, an apparent reference to his autocratic image during nearly two years at Israel's helm.

Peretz's popularity has plunged in opinion polls following Israel's inconclusive war against Lebanon's Hezbollah group last summer.

Calls have been mounting in Labour, ahead of an internal election in May, for the former trade union leader to step aside as defence chief. Two Israeli television stations said last week Olmert plans to fire Peretz, reports the prime minister denied.

Barak, a former army chief and Israel's most decorated soldier, left politics to focus on business ventures after losing a 2001 election to then-Likud party leader Ariel Sharon.

His term as prime minister was marked by ambitious but unsuccessful attempts to make peace with the Palestinians and Syria in U.S.-mediated talks.

Barak carried out his election promise to pull Israeli troops out of southern Lebanon, ending a 22-year occupation.

But critics said the May 2000 withdrawal under daily fire from Hezbollah guerrillas eroded Israel's deterrent power and encouraged Palestinians to launch an uprising months later.

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