JERUSALEM (AP) – Confident of victory in today’s election, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdrew to his office on the last day of the campaign, while opposition leader Amram Mitzna phoned wavering voters in a desperate attempt to cushion what is shaping up as the worst-ever showing of the once-dominant Labor Party.

Israel’s fourth election in seven years has inspired little passion, even though the direction of Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians is at stake. Mitzna champions a quick withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and much of the West Bank, while Sharon says troops must stay there until Palestinian militants have been crushed.

Many voters have simply despaired of a quick end to 28 months of fighting that has killed more than 2,800 people, three-fourths of them on the Palestinian side.

“No one really expects the dawn of a new day – at most the twilight of an old evening,” commentator Hemi Shalev wrote in the Maariv daily. “It is likely … that what was, will be.”

About 4.7 million of Israel’s 6.6 million citizens are eligible to vote, with 27 parties competing for 120 seats in parliament. The nearly 8,000 polling stations are to open at 7 a.m. local time today (midnight EST) and close at 10 p.m. (3 p.m. EST). At that time, three Israeli TV stations plan to broadcast exit polls or telephone surveys. Complete returns are expected tomorrow, and official results will be announced Feb. 8.

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