Monday 16 September 2019

Netanyahu allies revolt over Hamas ceasefire

Pressure: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Ronen Zvulun
Pressure: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Ronen Zvulun

Raf Sanchez

Israel's hawkish defence minister has resigned in protest at Tuesday's ceasefire agreement with Hamas, accusing Benjamin Netanyahu of "surrendering to terror".

The resignation of Avigdor Lieberman, one of Mr Netanyahu's coalition partners, rocked the Israeli government and could trigger fresh elections in the Jewish state.

Mr Netanyahu looks likely to take over the defence ministry himself, meaning he would simultaneously serve as Israel's prime minister, defence minister, foreign minister and health minister.

Mr Lieberman said he was quitting over Israel's decision to accept a ceasefire with Hamas rather than more forcefully confront the Islamist militant group in Gaza.

"What happened yesterday - the truce combined with the process with Hamas - is surrendering to terror. It has no other meaning," he said. "What we're doing now as a state is buying short-term quiet, with the price being severe long-term damage to national security."

He called for fresh elections "as early as possible".

Mr Lieberman is withdrawing his five Yisrael Beiteinu MPs from Mr Netanyahu's coalition, meaning the government now has only 61 seats in the 120 member parliament.

Mr Netanyahu is likely to try to keep going with his reduced majority, rather than plunge into elections in the aftermath of the fighting in Gaza.

But if other ministers walk out over the ceasefire deal, he may have no choice but to go to the polls.

Elections must happen by November 2019 but most politicians expect Mr Netanyahu will call them earlier than that.

Mr Netanyahu had been bracing for attacks from the right since agreeing to the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire deal on Tuesday, ending 24 hours of fighting which left one person dead in Israel and seven in Gaza.

Residents of the southern city of Sderot, a regular target for Hamas's rockets, burned tires and blocked the streets in protest at the ceasefire, saying the government was being held hostage by Hamas.

Speaking before the defence minister's resignation, Mr Netanyahu defended the ceasefire agreement and said the public could not necessarily understand all the reasons for his decision.

"I hear the voices of the residents of the south. Believe me, they are precious to me, their words penetrate my heart.

"But together with the heads of the security forces, I see the overall picture of Israel's security, which I cannot share with the public," he said.

Hamas immediately hailed Mr Lieberman's resignation as victory for its fighters.

"This is a political victory for Gaza, which caused this political earthquake within the occupation," the group said. (© Daily Telegraph London)

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