Israeli defence minister quits over ceasefire, splitting ruling coalition

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman has announced his resignation, citing his opposition to a ceasefire with Palestinian Islamist group Hamas.

Lieberman’s party will withdraw from the conservative coalition government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, raising the prospect of early elections.  Lieberman described an Egyptian-mediated deal with Hamas “a capitulation to terror”.

“From my point of view there are two critical points that made it impossible for me to carry on; the $15m that went into the Gaza Strip taken in suitcases from Qatar … what would happen with the money after it has gone across the border,” the minister said.

“It went to the families of the terrorists who fought on the border with Israeli soldiers throwing grenades. These families are the first who are going to receive part of this $15m – in other words we are … giving terrorists money,” Lieberman added.

This leaves Netanyahu with control of just 61 of the 120 seats in parliament a year before Israel’s next election.

Israeli political commentators had speculated that Netanyahu, who despite his approval ratings has been dogged by multiple corruption investigations, might bring forward the ballot.

But a spokesman for his rightist Likud party played down that option, saying Netanyahu would assume the defence post.

Lieberman has spoken in favour of harsh Israeli military action against Hamas, even as the government authorised a Qatari cash infusion to the impoverished enclave last week and limited itself to air strikes rather than a wider campaigns during this week’s fighting.

Born in the former Soviet Union, Lieberman’s voter base is made up of fellow Russian-speaking immigrants, and rightists and secularists who share his hostility to Israel’s Arab minority and the religious authority wielded by ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties.

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