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Israeli Prime Minister Fights for Political Survival


Pressure is growing on Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to resign, following the publication this week of a report critical of his leadership during last year's war in Lebanon. As VOA's Jim Teeple reports from Jerusalem, Israeli media outlets report the country's defense minister, who was also criticized in the Lebanon War report, could resign, later Wednesday.

Mr. Olmert's political allies began deserting him, Wednesday, leading to fevered speculation the prime minister's days in power may be coming to an end. Avigdor Itzhaki, who heads Mr. Olmert's Kadima Party faction in the Knesset, told Israel radio it was time to form a new coalition.

Itzhaki says he does not believe the time is right for elections, but that Mr. Olmert should step aside and allow a new governing coalition to be formed, immediately.

Polls published Wednesday in major newspapers indicate about two-thirds of Israelis want Mr. Olmert to step down.

Mr. Olmert says he will not resign, despite the publication of the report on Monday that blamed him, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and former Israeli Defense Forces Chief Dan Halutz for not having a proper plan, when Israel went to war in Lebanon, last year.

Newspaper columnist Uri Dromi says a key test of whether Mr. Olmert will stay or go could come Thursday. He says support for the prime minister is slipping away.

"It is wavering. It all depends on what the response of the public will be," he said. "People are organizing a rally for Thursday, hoping that thousands and thousands will show up and take to the streets -- eventually start such a snowball effect that will bring the prime minister down."

Mr. Olmert has been in power a little more than a year, but his once-enviable poll ratings sank precipitously following Israel's performance in last year's war in Lebanon. Israeli forces were widely perceived to have failed to militarily defeat Hezbollah forces in Lebanon.