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Israeli minister resigns over harsh report on Lebanon war


Tel Aviv : A minister of the Israeli Labour Party coalition partner announced his resignation Tuesday, becoming the first member of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's cabinet to quit over a report harshly criticizing his handling of last summer's war with Hezbollah.

"I can no longer sit in a government that is headed by Ehud Olmert," minister without portfolio Eitan Cabel told a news conference in Tel Aviv. Calling on Olmert to take responsibility for the faulty handling of the war, he said: "Ehud Olmert must resign." The centre-left Labour Party is the largest coalition partner of Olmert's ruling centrist Kadima movement.

An Israeli commission of inquiry had earlier slammed Ehud Olmert's "severe failure" in the opening days of last summer's indecisive offensive against the Hezbollah, casting a shadow over his future as prime minister and prompting opposition leaders to call for early elections. But the premier said he had no intention of resigning and would remain in office to implement the recommendations of the report, which he acknowledged were "severe" and "tough" in a brief statement on Israeli television Monday evening.

Presenting its much-anticipated interim findings, the commission held Olmert, 61, as well as his defence minister and military chief primarily responsible for "grave mistakes" in the decision-making toward the war. Israel launched the offensive against the Lebanese movement hours after its militants captured two Israeli soldiers and killed three others in a cross-border raid on July 12 last year.

The three acted without setting "clear goals," fully weighing other options and thinking through a "detailed, comprehensive" military plan, retired judge Eliyahu Winograd, who heads the commission, told a news conference in Jerusalem.

At least 1,200 Lebanese, many of them civilians, and 159 Israeli soldiers and civilians were killed in the 33 days of combat, during which Israel launched hundreds of air strikes on Hezbollah targets and Lebanese infrastructure, and the Shiite militant group fired nearly 4,000 Katyusha rockets at northern Israeli towns and villages.