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Israeli cabinet approves govt inquiry of Lebanon war

Written by: Staff
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JERUSALEM, Sep 17 (Reuters) Israel's cabinet appointed today a commission to investigate the way the government and military handled the Lebanon war, bowing to calls for an inquiry but rejecting veterans' demands for an independent probe.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has come under fire from critics who say he launched an ill-prepared campaign in Lebanon that failed to crush the Lebanese Hizbollah guerrilla group after it abducted two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid in July.

Hizbollah fired nearly 4,000 rockets into Israel during the 34-day conflict and Israeli reservists who fought in Lebanon have complained of poor planning and tactics.

Thousands of Israelis have taken part in protests to demand an independent inquiry into the war by a so-called state commission whose members would be appointed by a supreme court judge.

Olmert has said such an investigation, which in past Israeli-Arab wars has led to high-level resignations, would be too time-consuming.

Instead, the cabinet approved by a vote of 20-2, with one abstention, Olmert's nomination of a retired judge and four other members to a panel that will examine how political leaders and military commanders conducted the war.

Amir Peretz, who serves as Olmert's defence minister and leader of his main coalition partner, the centre-left Labour Party, voted in favour of the government-appointed panel, the Defence Ministry said.

Peretz had pushed for an independent probe of the war in which 157 Israelis, mostly soldiers, and nearly 1,200 people in Lebanon, most of them civilians, were killed before the fighting ended in a U N-brokered truce on August 14.

''I very much hope that the panel will complete its work in the near future, as soon as possible, and will assist the State of Israel in better preparing for the challenges that await us,'' Olmert said at the cabinet session.

The retired judge heading the commission, Eliyahu Winograd, can ask the justice minister to grant the panel the same powers of subpeona and witness immunity an independent, ''state inquiry'' would enjoy.

Other members of the inquiry board include two reserve generals, a jurist and a public policy professor.

REUTERS MQA BS1517

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