Thursday 17 October 2019

Benjamin Netanyahu rejects calls for early election in Israel

The prime minister added the defence minister role to his duties following the resignation of former ally Avigdor Lieberman over Gaza policy.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Ariel Schalit/AP)
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Ariel Schalit/AP)

By Aron Heller, Associated Press

Israel’s prime minister has said he will also take over as defence minister and is rejecting calls to hold early elections.

Benjamin Netanyahu announced on national TV on Sunday that he would take over the defence post following the resignation of Avigdor Lieberman.

Mr Lieberman stepped down last week to protest a ceasefire with Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.

He had demanded tougher action against the militants.

Avigdor Lieberman quit as Israel’s defence minister (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Mr Lieberman’s resignation has left Mr Netanyahu with a narrow majority in parliament, and his remaining partners have demanded he hold early elections.

In his address, Mr Netanyahu said now is not the time for new elections and he is committed to protecting his country’s security.

Another coalition partner, the Jewish Home, has scheduled a press conference for  Monday.

If it leaves the coalition, Mr Netanyahu will lose his parliamentary majority.

Earlier, Mr Netanyahu said he would try to convince finance minister Moshe Kahlon and his centrist Kulanu party to stay in the coalition.

Israeli tank and soldiers take positions at Israel’s Gaza border (Tsafrir Abayov/AP)

“It would be both unnecessary and incorrect to go to elections.

“We remember well what happened when elements inside the coalitions took down Likud governments in 1992 and in 1999,” Mr Netanyahu said, noting the past two elections in which the Labour Party came to power.

“We need to do everything we can to prevent repeating these mistakes,” he added.

The sudden coalition crisis was sparked by the resignation of Mr Lieberman, who had demanded a far stronger response last week to the most massive wave of rocket attacks on Israel since the 2014 Israel-Hamas war.

He alleges the truce will put southern Israel under a growing threat from Hamas, similar to that posed to northern Israel by Lebanon’s heavily armed Hezbollah group.

The departure of Mr Lieberman and his Yisrael Beitenu party leaves the coalition with a one-seat majority in the 120-member parliament.

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