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Israel defence minister wants independent Lebanon probe

Written by: Staff
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JERUSALEM, Sep 1 (Reuters) Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz broke from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert today by calling for an independent state inquiry into the government's handling of the war in Lebanon.

Olmert said on Monday that two committees would look into the conduct of the war, rejecting a full state probe headed by a retired judge that could have led to high-level resignations.

''In order to maintain impartiality, transparency and the public's faith in the investigative process, it is best to have a state inquiry,'' Peretz said on Israel Radio after meeting members of his Labour party in Tel Aviv.

The move by Peretz could strain ties within Olmert's coalition government and between the men themselves.

Peretz heads the Labour party, the senior partner in the coalition. Until now both men had presented a united public front to criticism over the army's failure to crush Hizbollah.

Despite Peretz's opposition, Olmert should get support for avoiding the state probe when he seeks approval from the cabinet on Wednesday, a political source has said. Two or three Labour ministers will also back Olmert, say Israeli media.

Israelis have lambasted the government's management of the war and its inability to crush Hizbollah after 34 days of fighting. One opinion poll has shown a majority of Israelis want Olmert and Peretz to resign.

Olmert's centrist Kadima party won control of parliament in March and formed an alliance with Labour.

Olmert has acknowledged shortcomings in the way the campaign against Hizbollah was pursued but said he did not wish to expose the army to a drawn-out investigation.

A shaky ceasefire came into effect on August 14.

The Lebanon war began on July 12 when Hizbollah guerrillas captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid.

Reuters BDP VV1911

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