Israeli Cabinet Approves Government Inquiry of Lebanon War

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s cabinet appointed a commission on Sunday 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 retired judge Eliayhu Winograd and four other members to a panel that will examine how political leaders and military commanders conducted the war.

Outside the prime minister’s office, dozens of veterans held a demonstration, holding signs calling on Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and the military’s chief of staff, Lieutenant-General Dan Halutz to resign.

The protesters brought along a donkey and a sign reading: “Only an ass does not see that the Winograd Committee is a whitewash.”

Peretz, leader of Olmert’s main coalition partner, the centre-left Labor Party, voted in favor of the government-appointed panel, the Defense 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.

As a retired judge, Winograd is empowered under Israeli law to ask the justice minister to grant the panel the same powers of subpoena and witness immunity that an independent, “state inquiry” would enjoy.

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

Israeli Cabinet Approves Government Inquiry of Lebanon War

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