Former Israeli spy boss joins Sharon's party


The architect of Israel's policy of assassinating Palestinian militants joined Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's new centrist party today to run in a March general election.

Avraham Dichter, who used to head the Shin Bet security agency, is popular with Israelis but criticised worldwide for his tough tactics against the Palestinian uprising.

"I decided to join the Kadima list," Mr Dichter told a news conference, naming Sharon's party. "I see the Kadima list as one that can make a real change in Israeli politics".

Mr Sharon, said Mr Dichter "has the leadership, courage and ability to pull the wagon out of the mud", alluding to the party's pledges to take steps towards peace with the Palestinians.

Mr Dichter, who retired several months ago after 34 years in the military and security services, is viewed as an electoral asset to Mr Sharon ahead of the March 28th balloting, as a potential bulwark against rightist critics of his Gaza withdrawal.

Polls predict Mr Sharon, a 77-year-old former general, will win re-election to a third term as prime minister despite recently suffering a mild stroke. But Mr Sharon still wants the support of key military figures to beat back challenges from rightist Likud party leader and arch-rival Benjamin Netanyahu, who denounces Mr Sharon's removal of troops from Gaza in September as having harmed Israeli security.

Under Dichter's leadership, Israel expanded a policy of assassinating Palestinian militants as a key strategy against an uprising that erupted in September 2000 after failed peace talks.

The killings are widely supported by Israelis. Palestinians and world leaders have condemned the killings, saying that they have fuelled violence and undermined peace efforts.