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Israel Defence Minister Lieberman resigns over Gaza ceasefire

Israel’s defence minister has resigned over the cabinet’s decision to accept a ceasefire ending two days of fighting with Palestinian militants in Gaza.

Avigdor Lieberman
Avigdor Lieberman

Avigdor Lieberman denounced the move as “surrendering to terror”.

He said his right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party would leave the ruling coalition, which could lead to an early election.

Eight people were killed on Monday and Tuesday as militants fired 460 rockets towards Israel and Israeli forces bombed 160 targets in Gaza.

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The ceasefire was largely holding on Wednesday and schools and businesses in southern Israel reopened after no rocket attacks were reported overnight.

However, Israel’s military said it had shot at and captured a Palestinian man who tried to breach the Israel-Gaza border fence while hurling grenades.

Palestinian health officials later said a fisherman had been killed by Israeli fire in northern Gaza. The Israeli military said soldiers had shot the man because he was advancing towards the border fence.

What happened in the latest flare-up?

The fighting – the most intense since the 50-day war in 2014 – began after an Israeli special forces undercover operation in Gaza was exposed on Sunday, triggering clashes that left seven Palestinian militants and one Israeli soldier dead.

Late on Monday, militants launched a barrage of rockets and mortars at Israel.

Image captionA Palestinian man working in Israel was killed in a rocket attack on a southern Israeli town

One of the rockets hit a block of flats in the town of Ashkelon, killing a Palestinian man who was working in Israel.

In response, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) carried out what it called a wide-scale attack against targets belonging to the militant groups Hamas, which dominates Gaza, and Islamic Jihad.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said seven people were killed in the strikes. Five of the dead were said to be militants and the other two farmers.

Israel targeted a building that housed Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV channel

Hamas and other Palestinian factions announced on Tuesday afternoon that they had accepted an Egyptian-mediated ceasefire and would abide by it if Israel did.

Israel’s security cabinet initially said only that it was ordering the military to continue its operations as required, but Mr Lieberman and another minister appeared to confirm it had agreed to accept a ceasefire when they denied supporting it.

Why did Mr Lieberman resign?

At a news conference in Jerusalem on Wednesday, the defence minister said the military response to the rocket fire had been “insufficient and inappropriate”.

He added that the government was making a serious mistake by accepting a ceasefire with Hamas and other militant groups that Israel, the US, EU and UK have designated as terrorist organisations.

“We are buying quiet for the short term at the price of serious damage to national security in the long term” he warned.

Mr Lieberman revealed he had similarly opposed recent decisions to allow into Gaza fuel for the territory’s power plant and $15m (£12m) in cash from Qatar intended to fund the salaries of unpaid civil servants in the Hamas-run government.

“I could not remain [in office] and still be able to look residents of the south in the eyes,” he added.

Dozens of residents of Israeli border communities protested after the ceasefire announcement at what they called the “lack of action by the Israeli government” to deal with the threat of Palestinian rocket attacks.

Mr Lieberman also announced that Yisrael Beiteinu would leave the ruling coalition and called on other parties to agree on an early date for a general election, which is not due until November 2019. BBC