BBC : Israel Defence Minister Lieberman resigns over Gaza ceasefire

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Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Avigdor Lieberman said Israel was doing "serious damage to national security in the long term"

Israel's defence minister has resigned over the cabinet's decision to accept a ceasefire ending two days of fighting with Palestinian militants in Gaza.

Avigdor Lieberman denounced the move as "surrendering to terror".

He also said his Yisrael Beiteinu party would leave the governing coalition, which could lead to an early election.

Eight people were killed on Monday and Tuesday as militants fired 460 rockets towards Israel and Israeli forces bombed 160 targets in Gaza.

The ceasefire was largely holding on Wednesday and schools and businesses in southern Israel reopened after no rocket attacks were reported overnight.

However, Israel's military said it had shot at and captured a Palestinian man who tried to breach the Israel-Gaza border fence while hurling grenades.

What happened in the latest flare-up?

The fighting - the most intense since the 50-day war in 2014 - began after an Israeli special forces undercover operation in Gaza was exposed on Sunday, triggering clashes that left seven Palestinian militants and one Israeli soldier dead.

Late on Monday, militants launched a barrage of rockets and mortars at Israel.

A bus, which was being used to transport Israeli troops was hit by an anti-tank missile in the Shaar Hanegev region, seriously wounding a soldier.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption A Palestinian man working in Israel was killed in a rocket attack on a southern Israeli town

Later, a Palestinian man working in Israel was killed when a rocket hit block of flats in the town of Ashkelon. Eight other people were injured, two of them seriously.

In response, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) carried out what it called a wide-scale attack against targets belonging to the militant groups Hamas, which dominates Gaza, and Islamic Jihad.

They included what Israel's military said was Hamas's military intelligence headquarters in northern Gaza and a building housing Hamas's Al-Aqsa TV station.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Israel said the Al-Aqsa TV channel "contributed to Hamas's military actions"

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said seven people were killed in the strikes. Five of the dead were said to be militants and the other two farmers.

Hamas and other Palestinian factions announced on Tuesday afternoon that they had accepted an Egyptian-mediated ceasefire and would abide by it if Israel did.

Israel's security cabinet initially said only that it was ordering the military to continue its operations as required, but Mr Lieberman and another minister appeared to confirm it had agreed to accept a ceasefire when they denied supporting it.

Why did Mr Lieberman resign?

At a televised news conference in Jerusalem on Wednesday, the defence minister said the military response to the rocket fire had been "insufficient and inappropriate"

He added that the government was making a serious mistake by accepting a ceasefire with Hamas and other militant groups that Israel, the US, EU and UK have designated as terrorist organisations.

"We are buying quiet for the short term at the price of serious damage to national security in the long term" he warned.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Sderot residents protested against the ceasefire agreement on Tuesday night

Mr Lieberman announced that Yisrael Beiteinu would leave the ruling coalition and called on other parties to agree on a date for an early general election, which is not due until November 2019.

Dozens of residents of Israeli border communities earlier blocked roads in protest at what they called the "lack of action by the Israeli government" to deal with the threat of Palestinian rocket attacks.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended the ceasefire decision, saying that "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".

In Gaza, people celebrated the ceasefire, which Hamas portrayed as a victory.

How significant is the resignation?

By Yolande Knell, BBC News, Jerusalem

This announcement by Mr Lieberman was expected.

He has been calling for tough Israeli military action against Hamas and has opposed ongoing efforts by Egypt and the UN to secure a long-term ceasefire deal that would quieten the Israel-Gaza border.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces criticism in Israel for accepting a ceasefire

His hawkish stance as defence minister has often left him at odds with the military top brass.

But it plays out well with the voter base of his political party.

The decision to withdraw Yisrael Beiteinu from the coalition government weakens Mr Netanyahu, who now controls just 61 of 120 parliamentary seats.

However, an official close to the prime minister told the BBC it need not trigger an early general election. He added that the prime minister would now take over the defence ministry.

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