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Israeli Reservists Criticize Olmert Government's Handling of War


U.N. envoys held talks in Israel on Monday as pressure mounted on the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for a state inquiry into the conduct of the month-long conflict in Lebanon. VOA's Jim Teeple has more from our Jerusalem bureau.

Angry army reservists marched to a park near Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office to demand an official inquiry into the conduct of government officials and senior military officers during the conflict in Lebanon.

Reservists like Yossi Avigor say they went into battle without enough equipment, or proper direction about what their mission was. He says senior officials responsible for the conduct of the war should resign.

"I do not think they should remain in their offices," he said. "When we came to the army we thought all the storages had everything. I did not have a vest. If I did not bring a vest from home I could not have gone to battle. I had a friend who got an army shirt on the third day. We think that everybody without exception should pay the price for this fault in the war."

A separate group of reserve parachutists have published a letter in a leading Israeli newspaper, saying indecision by their superiors, led to the cancellation of all of their missions. In their letter the reservists say their experience was typical of many soldiers and was one reason why Israel was unable to "deliver a knockout blow to Hezbollah," which one day before a ceasefire went into effect launched nearly 250 rockets against towns in northern Israel.

Speaking Monday on a tour of rocket-damaged buildings in the north, Prime Minister Olmert rejected the criticism, saying he would not slander the army or engage in self-flagellation.

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz has said the government will conduct an inquiry, but the protesting reservists and their supporters in Israel's Knesset, or parliament, are calling for state commission of inquiry like those that examined failures by Israel's commanders during wars in 1973 and 1982. In 1982, then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon was forced to resign after being found indirectly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Palestinians who were killed by Lebanese Christian militias allied with Israel.

Two senior U.N. envoys, Terje Roed Larson and Vijay Nambiar, held talks with senior Israeli officials on Monday. U.N. officials say they hope to finalize the rules of engagement for the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon in the next few days. A number of potential peacekeeping nations have said they will not send troops to the projected 15,000-member force as long as the mission and the rules of engagement remain ill-defined.

Prime Minister Olmert says his country wants Italy to lead the force. Speaking Monday, after talks with Turkey's Foreign Minister, he said he hoped Turkey would also join the effort.

"Turkey is trusted by Israel and can play an important stabilizing role in the Middle East," Olmert said.

Among the issues reportedly discussed between Israeli officials and U.N. envoys on Monday was a prisoner swap between Israel and Hezbollah. Late Monday, U.N. officials in Lebanon confirmed that five Lebanese men seized by Israeli forces during a commando raid on the eastern Lebanese city of Baalbek had been handed over to U.N. peacekeepers.

In his remarks on Monday, Prime Minister Olmert also rejected resuming peace talks with Syria. Some of Mr. Olmert's cabinet colleagues have called for a resumption of talks with Syria. But Mr. Olmert says Syria will not be a partner for peace until it stops supporting Hezbollah and threatening Israel.