Israel’s defence minister quits over Gaza ceasefire

Israel’s Defence Minister has resigned in protest over the Gaza ceasefire – calling it a ‘capitulation to terror’.

Avigdor Lieberman announced his resignation today and called for early elections after a disagreement over the Gaza deal.

His shock resignation has thrown the government into turmoil.

Lieberman described yesterday’s ceasefire deal with Hamas, mediated by Egypt, over Gaza as a ‘surrender to terrorism’ after two days of heavy fighting.

He also said his party, Yisrael Beitenu, was leaving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, leaving the premier with only a one-seat majority in parliament.

Lieberman told reporters today: ‘What happened yesterday – the truce combined with the process with Hamas – is capitulating to terror. It has no other meaning.

‘What we’re doing now as a state is buying short-term quiet, with the price being severe long-term damage to national security.’ 

Israel's Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced his resignation to the media following his party, Yisrael Beitenu, faction meeting

Israel's Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced his resignation to the media following his party, Yisrael Beitenu, faction meeting

Israel’s Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced his resignation to the media following his party, Yisrael Beitenu, faction meeting

Palestinians gather near the remains of a building that was completely destroyed by an Israeli air strike, in Gaza City yesterday

Palestinians gather near the remains of a building that was completely destroyed by an Israeli air strike, in Gaza City yesterday

Palestinians gather near the remains of a building that was completely destroyed by an Israeli air strike, in Gaza City yesterday

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government has been thrown into turmoil with the resignation of the defence minster leaving him with just a one-seat majority

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government has been thrown into turmoil with the resignation of the defence minster leaving him with just a one-seat majority

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government has been thrown into turmoil with the resignation of the defence minster leaving him with just a one-seat majority

He added later: ‘We should agree on a date for elections as early as possible.

‘Despite the difference in opinion, I tried to stay a faithful member of the government for as long as possible, but it has failed.’ 

Lieberman also said he fiercely objected to Israel allowing Qatar to deliver $15m in aid to Gaza last week, which was said to be used to pay workers who had not received wages.

Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, called Lieberman’s resignation a ‘political victory for Gaza’ and said it was a result of Israel’s ‘defeat’ this week. 

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, said in a statement ‘Lieberman’s departure is recognition of defeat and failure to confront the Palestinian resistance. Gaza’s steadfastness sent a political shockwave.’

Lieberman previously worked as a nightclub bouncer as a young man before embarking on a political career marked by anti-Arab tirades and strident populism. 

The leader of the right-wing Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Is Our Home) party was said to by loathed by the Palestinians as he was a security hardliner. 

 Palestinians inspect a crater caused by an Israeli air strike earlier this week in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip today

 Palestinians inspect a crater caused by an Israeli air strike earlier this week in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip today

 Palestinians inspect a crater caused by an Israeli air strike earlier this week in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip today

Residents of southern Israel protest against their government's decision to hold fire in Gaza in response to a similar decision by Palestinian militants yesterday

Residents of southern Israel protest against their government's decision to hold fire in Gaza in response to a similar decision by Palestinian militants yesterday

Residents of southern Israel protest against their government’s decision to hold fire in Gaza in response to a similar decision by Palestinian militants yesterday

He also was said to have a practical side while in government and backed off from some of his most controversial comments after becoming defence minister in May 2016. 

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Lieberman have been bitter rivals in the past, but often worked together while in government. 

Over the years Lieberman has held positions as a foreign minister from 2009 to 2012, then again from 2013 to 2015.

As Israel’s top diplomat, he has criticised the European Union, accusing it of following a pro-Palestinian policy hostile to Jews – often invoking the Holocaust.

These controversial stances earned him many fans in Israel, while critics accused him of racism.

His image was tainted by a corruption scandal that saw him leave the government in 2012, but he was cleared of the charges and a year later he returned. 

Lieberman says he is not a supporter of the idea of ‘Greater Israel’ – the biblical boundaries that include the occupied West Bank and which settlers advocate 

Controversial comments by the former Israeli defence minister

Born in the ex-Soviet republic of Moldova, Lieberman, 60, emigrated to Israel in 1978.

Lieberman started his career in Netanyahu’s Likud party and rose through the ranks to become his chief of staff during the premier’s first term from 1996 to 1999.

That year, he created Yisrael Beitenu, capturing the support of many of the more than one million Jews who emigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union, which is an expanding electoral base.

In 2001, he advocated bombing the Aswan Dam in Egypt, accusing Israel’s Arab neighbour of supporting a Palestinian uprising.

In 2014, he called Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas a ‘diplomatic terrorist’.

A year later in 2015, Lieberman said that Israeli Arabs disloyal to the country ‘deserve to have their heads chopped off with an axe’.

That same year he called Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan an ‘anti-Semitic neighbourhood bully’.

In 2016, Lieberman accused some Arab members of the Israeli parliament of being ‘representatives of terrorist organisations’.

Before becoming defence minister, he also said he would give Hamas leader Ismail Haniya 48 hours to hand over two detained Israeli civilians and the bodies of soldiers killed in a 2014 war ‘or you’re dead’.

He even once described Netanyahu as a ‘liar, cheat and a crook.’

In recent months, he has been seeking to have a bill approved that would make it easier to sentence Palestinian assailants to death. 

Netanyahu today defended his decision to accept the ceasefire after the worst escalation with Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip since the 2014 Gaza war.

He said at a ceremony in honour of Israel’s founding father David Ben-Gurion: ‘In times of emergency, when making decisions crucial to security, the public can’t always be privy to the considerations that must be hidden from the enemy.

‘Our enemies begged for a ceasefire and they knew very well why.’

Elections are not due until November 2019, but Lieberman’s resignation increases the likelihood of an earlier vote.

Lieberman heads the right-wing Yisrael Beitenu party, which holds five seats in the 120-seat Knesset, or parliament.

Angry residents took to the street yesterday chanting ‘disgrace!’ at what they saw as the government’s capitulation to violence and its inability to provide long-term security, as many have openly vowed to never vote Likud again.

Avigdor Lieberman, who leads the five-seat Yisrael Beitenu party, called the Gaza truce a 'surrender to terrorism' after two days of heavy fighting

Avigdor Lieberman, who leads the five-seat Yisrael Beitenu party, called the Gaza truce a 'surrender to terrorism' after two days of heavy fighting

Avigdor Lieberman, who leads the five-seat Yisrael Beitenu party, called the Gaza truce a ‘surrender to terrorism’ after two days of heavy fighting

Residents of southern Israel protest against their government's decision to hold fire in Gaza

Residents of southern Israel protest against their government's decision to hold fire in Gaza

Residents of southern Israel protest against their government’s decision to hold fire in Gaza

Angry residents took to the street yesterday chanting 'disgrace!' at what they saw as the government's capitulation to violence and its inability to provide long-term security

Angry residents took to the street yesterday chanting 'disgrace!' at what they saw as the government's capitulation to violence and its inability to provide long-term security

Angry residents took to the street yesterday chanting ‘disgrace!’ at what they saw as the government’s capitulation to violence and its inability to provide long-term security

David Maimon, a local resident, said: ‘We are third-class citizens here in Sderot and the communities on the border with Gaza. 

‘It’s a shame. Instead of helping us and letting us live quietly, they let us suffer.’

Gaza descended into violence this week as Israel came under a heavy barrage of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip on Monday, a day after a flare-up in which an Israeli officer and seven Palestinians were killed.

An anti-tank missile launched from Gaza hit a bus in southern Israel, severely wounding a 19-year-old soldier.

Around sundown on Monday, militants launched 100 rockets in less than an hour, the most intense barrage since the 50-day war four years ago. 

The Israel Defense Forces said the Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted around 100 out of some 370 launches from Gaza. 

Palestinians gather in front of a destroyed building that was hit by Israeli airstrikes, in Gaza City yesterday 

Palestinians gather in front of a destroyed building that was hit by Israeli airstrikes, in Gaza City yesterday 

Palestinians gather in front of a destroyed building that was hit by Israeli airstrikes, in Gaza City yesterday 

Israelis run for cover after warning of 'red alert' near the southern Israeli city of Sderot yesterday

Israelis run for cover after warning of 'red alert' near the southern Israeli city of Sderot yesterday

Israelis run for cover after warning of ‘red alert’ near the southern Israeli city of Sderot yesterday

Smoke rising from the northern Gaza Strip town of Biet Hanon as seen after the violence of yesterday

Smoke rising from the northern Gaza Strip town of Biet Hanon as seen after the violence of yesterday

Smoke rising from the northern Gaza Strip town of Biet Hanon as seen after the violence of yesterday

Yesterday the Israeli army announced it is reinforcing Armored Corps and infantry units near the Gaza Strip, while the Israel Air Force struck over a hundred Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets on Monday night, including a munitions warehouse, weapons factory and a military compound and Hamas’ Public Security offices

The fighting, triggered by a botched undercover Israeli military raid in Gaza, cast doubt over recent understandings brokered by Egypt and UN officials to reduce tensions.

A day earlier, Israel’s prime minister said he was doing everything possible to avoid another war.

Late on Monday, an air strike destroyed the Gaza City headquarters of Hamas’s Al Aqsa TV station.

In all, 200 rockets were fired into Israel by mid-evening, the Israeli army said as the Israeli military responded with strikes against targets in Gaza. 

In recent days, Israel had allowed fuel shipments to increase the power supply in Gaza, which suffers from frequent blackouts, and agreed to additional Qatari assistance to allow Hamas to pay the salaries of its thousands of government workers.

Hamas has staged near-weekly border protests since March in an effort to lift the Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed after the Islamic militant group seized control of the coastal strip in 2007. 

The blockade has ravaged Gaza’s economy, and Israel refuses to lift it unless Hamas disarms, a demand rejected by militant group, which is pledged to Israel’s destruction.

Demonstrators each week have approach the border fence, throwing firebombs, grenades and burning tires at Israeli troops. Israeli snipers have killed about 170 people, most of them unarmed. 

Israel says it is defending its border against attackers, but it has come under heavy international criticism for shooting unarmed people.

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