Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced his resignation yesterday and called for early elections after a sharp disagreement over a Gaza ceasefire deal, throwing the government into turmoil.
Lieberman also said his party was quitting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, leaving the premier with only a one-seat majority in parliament. The violence saw seven Gazans killed in 24 hours as Israeli strikes targeted militants and flattened buildings, sending fireballs and plumes of smoke into the sky.
Gazan demonstrators yesterday burned pictures of Lieberman and sweets were handed out in the streets, while Hamas called his resignation a “victory.” The Egyptian-brokered truce was announced by Gaza militant groups, including Hamas, on Tuesday.
Elections are not due until November 2019, but Lieberman’s resignation increases the likelihood of an earlier vote. “What happened yesterday, the truce combined with the process with Hamas is capitulating to terror,” Lieberman told journalists in explaining his reasons for resigning. “What we’re doing now as a state is buying short-term quiet, with the price being severe long-term damage to national security.”
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He added later: “We should agree on a date for elections as early as possible.” Netanyahu has defended Tuesday’s ceasefire deal that ended the worst escalation between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza since a 2014 war.
An official from Netanyahu’s Likud party hit back at speculation that early elections would be called and said the prime minister would take charge of Lieberman’s portfolio at least temporarily. “There’s no obligation to go to an election in this time of security sensitivity,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
A Likud spokesman said later in the day that Netanyahu had begun consultations with heads of parties in his coalition to stabilise it. The party of far-right Education Minister Naftali Bennett, a Netanyahu rival, was threatening to withdraw from the coalition if he was not given the defence portfolio.
Lieberman, a security hardliner, heads the right-wing Yisrael Beitenu party, which holds five seats in the 120-seat parliament, the Knesset. Before taking over as defence minister, he said he would give Hamas leader Ismail Haniya 48 hours to hand over two detained Israeli civilians and the bodies of soldiers killed in the 2014 war “or you’re dead”.