In Brief

Israeli government near collapse after defence minister resigns

Hawkish Avigdor Lieberman steps down over ‘capitulation to terror’ Gaza ceasefire

Israel’s coalition government has been thrown into turmoil by the resignation of hawkish defence minister Avigdor Lieberman, who stepped down in protest at the latest Gaza ceasefire.

Responding to Tuesday’s Egypt-mediated deal between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas to bring an end to the most intense period of fighting in Gaza since 2014, Lieberman said: “The truce combined with the process with Hamas is a capitulation to terror. It has no other meaning. What we’re doing now as a state is buying short-term quiet, with the price being severe long-term damage to national security.”

Fighting erupted over the weekend after a botched Israeli covert operation in south Gaza turned into a firefight leaving seven Palestinians and an Israeli lieutenant colonel dead, “sparking fears both sides were on the brink of a new war”, says The Independent.

It follows months of escalating tensions that has seen Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “under pressure to act forcefully” from Israeli communities living near Gaza, “and from members of his own government, with Lieberman at the forefront”, says The Guardian.

Netanyahu has also been criticised by hardline members of the cabinet for his decision to partially lift the blockade on Gaza this month to accept shipments of fuel and £12m in Qatari aid as backpay for thousands of unpaid Palestinian civil servants.

“The decision by Mr. Lieberman to step down, and to withdraw his hawkish Yisrael Beiteinu party from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, will decrease the number of seats held by the government from 66 to a precarious 61 in the 120-seat Parliament,” says The New York Times.

This one-seat majority “could collapse if other parties also decide to quit”, adds The Daily Telegraph.

Netanyahu’s allies said he plans to take over the Defence Ministry himself, meaning he would simultaneously serve as Israel’s prime minister, defence minister, foreign minister and health minister.

But, in a day of high political drama, Naftali Bennett, the leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party, demanded the defence portfolio for himself and threatened to bring down the government if he was not given the post.

Elections are not scheduled until November 2019, but many commentators believe Netanyahu will call them early next spring, with polls showing his Likud party on course for victory.

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