Israeli defence minister resigns, accuses Benjamin Netanyahu of surrendering before Hamas

Jerusalem: Israeli defence minister Avigdor Lieberman resigned Wednesday and called for early elections, accusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of "capitulating to terror" and surrendering before the Islamist group Hamas over a Gaza ceasefire agreement. Over 460 rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israel in 25 hours on Monday and Tuesday, according to the Israeli Army. The Iron Dome missile defence system intercepted over 100 of them.

File photo of Israeli defence minister Avigdor Lieberman. Reuters

File photo of Israeli defence minister Avigdor Lieberman. Reuters

Most of the rest landed in open fields, but dozens landed inside Israeli cities and towns, killing one person, injuring dozens more, and causing significant property damage. In response, the Israeli military targeted approximately 160 sites in the Gaza Strip connected to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic jihad terror groups, including four facilities that the army designated as "key strategic assets".

As news of a ceasefire between the Israeli government and Hamas—which controls the Gaza Strip—broke, Liberman's office put out a statement saying any claim that he had backed ending Israel's offensive was "fake news". "I didn't look for reasons to quit," Lieberman said at a hurriedly called press conference. "I tried to remain a loyal government member in the cabinet, keep differences internal even at an electoral cost.

The two turning points were the millions of dollars in cash delivered to Gaza by Qatar and the ceasefire Israel agreed to with Hamas on Tuesday, the ultra-nationalist leader said. "There is no other definition, no other significance, but a capitulation to terror. What we are doing now as a country is buying short-term quiet at the cost of our long-term security," the defence minister said. Lieberman's Yisrael Beteinu party also pulled out of the ruling coalition led by Netanyahu, demanding fresh elections.

The ruling coalition still holds a slender majority of 651 to 59 in the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) after Beiteinu's departure. However, another key coalition partner Habayit Hayehudi, headed by Education Minister Naftali Bennett, also threatened to quit if the defence portfolio did not go to its leader. Lieberman said: "It is no secret that there were differences between the prime minister and I. I did not agree to allow entry of Qatari money (into Gaza), and I had to allow it only after the prime minister announced it".

He said that similar differences revolved around the evacuation of the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank which had also led to differences in the overwhelmingly right-wing dominated coalition. Senior sources in Netanyahu's Likud party were quoted by the local media as saying that "elections are not necessarily the next step", adding that Netanyahu will initially take charge of Lieberman's portfolio.

Hamas said that Lieberman's resignation is a recognition of Israel's defeat in this week's military confrontation with the Islamic group. Following the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Lieberman and Bennett published statements, distancing themselves from the decision to agree to a ceasefire. Lieberman demanded a "harsh, decisive" move against Hamas. Sources close to Bennett said his opposition to the ceasefire was crystal clear.

Certain other sources, however, said that ultimately the ministers unanimously supported the defence establishment's position that an action should be taken to restore the calm. According to the associates of Lieberman, the claim by the Prime Minister's Office that the defence minister had supported the ceasefire agreement in Gaza infuriated him. Lieberman and Bennett have recently traded barbs publicly with the latter charging the defence minister of going soft against terror.

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Updated Date: Nov 14, 2018 23:25:21 IST