A first test of strength for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's newly founded Kadima party took place Tuesday, when the faction is scheduled to hold its first activists' assembly at the PM's official Jerusalem residence.
About 70 mayors and regional council heads arrived at the meeting, held in a bid to broaden the ranks of the young faction.
Some of the invitees are affiliated with the Likud and some with Labor.
The prime minister thanked the participants who arrived at the gathering, and presented before them the main parts of his platform. He also explained why he decided to quit Likud and embark on a new political path.
"I turn to you to ask for your help, you partnership and your assistance in the difficult campaign ahead of us," Sharon said.
"I am convinced that together, with the responsibility and leadership each of you represents, we can march Israel forward. I am certain that wonderful supporters will continue to join the great effort we are leading, which is backed everywhere in Israel, and I know we did the right thing for the sake of Israel," he added.
Sharon's associates defined the meeting "an overwhelming success," and stated they did not expect so many people to arrive.
However, some of the participants have yet to decide whether to join the new party.
'Struggling with a great dilemma'
Yitzhak Bukovza, mayor of the town of Or-Yehuda, just east of Tel Aviv, who said he was part of the Likud "since childhood," said that upon opting for attendance in the meeting, "I faced an inner-struggle between history, my roots and my heart. But we need to think forward," he added.
Dror Shur, head of the Beer Tuvia local council and a Labor member, stated he will not back Amir Peretz in the elections.
"I know Amir well enough, and I fear that supporting him would mean that six million Israeli citizens will end up serving a few hundred civil servants. Such a situation is unacceptable," he explained.
About 10 Arab regional council heads attended the meeting, but proclaimed they are still undecided about their political future.
Talal al-Granawi from the Bedouin town of Rahat said he was struggling with a great dilemma.
"I've been a Labor member for the last 31 years. I am here to hear what the prime minister has to say, but this is not simple decision," he said.
The meeting was announced amid a fierce struggle that has been taking place in recent days between Kadima and the Likud over the support of prominent public figures.
As part of this conflict, the Likud has initiated a process to remove Sharon's backers from the party's headquarters, and some regional council heads have already claimed they were threatened to be banned from Likud if they attend Sharon's meeting.
The meeting not only constitutes a test for the level of prestige and support the prime minister is capable of enrolling, it is also aimed at creating a long-term infrastructure for the party within ground-level activists.