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Israeli Commission Criticizes Lebanon War Decisions


A government-appointed Israeli commission has harshly criticized Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and other senior Israeli officials for their handling of last year's Lebanon War. As VOA's Jim Teeple reports from Jerusalem, the commission released its interim report Monday.

The much-anticipated Winograd Commission interim report says Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert did not have a proper plan when he committed Israel to war last year.

The war began on July 12th, after Hezbollah militants in Lebanon kidnapped two Israeli soldiers, and killed three others in a cross-border raid. The report criticizes Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Israeli Defense Forces Chief Dan Halutz, saying Peretz had little experience in defense matters and Halutz acted impulsively.

Commission member Ruth Gavison, a retired judge, says the three officials are guilty of not setting clear goals for the war. She also says Israel's initial military strikes were not clearly thought out and others in the chain of command should share the blame. "All three made a decisive personal contribution to these decisions, and in the way they were made. However, there were many others who share responsibility for the mistakes we found in these decisions and for their background conditions," she said.

Prime Minister Olmert has defended his handling of the 34-day conflict, saying it forced Hezbollah militants out of southern Lebanon, allowed the Lebanese Army to deploy along Israel's northern border, and led to the re-inforcement of a small U.N. peacekeeping force with thousands of new troops from half-a-dozen nations.

Israel's prime minister says he has no intention of resigning. Speaking late Monday he called for patience.

Mr. Olmert says he will definitely study the report and that in the future any problems outlined by the Winograd Commission will not be repeated.

In January, Air Force General Dan Halutz, the head of the Israeli Defense Forces stepped down after he was harshly criticized in another report for his management of the war - specifically for his over-reliance on air-power, poor execution of the Israeli ground campaign, and for failing to knock out Hezbollah missile launching sites.

Calls have been mounting across the political spectrum for Mr. Olmert to resign, but newspaper columnist Uri Dromi says many of the prime minister's parliamentary colleagues are not quite ready for a change in leadership. "Ehud Olmert is a survivor and he is not the kind of man who made it to the prime minister's office to give it away so easily. Let us not forget that many members of the Knesset (parliament) are not so keen on any changes, because many of them feel they will not be there if there is a re-shuffling or new elections," he said.

The Winograd Commission report examined the first few days of the war when Israel retaliated against Hezbollah with a massive aerial bombardment of southern Lebanon. A final report looking at the entire war will be issued in the next few months.

More than 1,000 Lebanese, mostly civilians, were killed in the conflict, while 119 Israeli soldiers and 39 civilians were killed before a cease-fire went into effect.

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