Israeli army chief quits to pay price for Lebanon war

AP , JERUSALEM

Thu, Jan 18, 2007 - Page 1

Israeli military chief Lieutenant-General Dan Halutz has resigned, the military announced early yesterday, yielding to widespread demands that he pay the price for Israel's flawed summer war in Lebanon.

Halutz's decision to step aside ratcheted up the pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, whose roles during Israel's largest military operation since 1982 have also been assailed.

Halutz stepped down at the end of an already turbulent day for Olmert. Hours earlier, the Justice Ministry ordered police to launch a criminal investigation into his conduct in the sale of Israel's second-largest bank before he became prime minister last year.

Troops, bereaved families and even members of Israel's tightly knit military elite have been calling for Halutz's head ever since the monthlong war against Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas ended on Aug. 14.

Israel launched the full-scale assault just hours after Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers and killed three others in a July 12 cross-border raid.

The country went into the war as a united front against Hezbollah, but that solidarity collapsed after the fighting ended without the guerrillas being crushed or the captured soldiers being recovered.

More than 1,000 people were killed, mostly Lebanese, according to UN, Israeli and Lebanese officials. Israel claims it killed 600 guerrillas, but that number has not been substantiated, and Lebanon says most of its casualties were civilians.

Northern Israel, meanwhile, was nearly paralyzed by the approximately 4,000 rockets fired from Lebanon during the fighting, killing 159 Israelis, including 39 civilians.

Criticism of the military's preparedness and tactics swelled after the battles ended without a clear-cut Israeli victory.

Questions about the wisdom of 11th-hour battles and reports of food and water shortages fueled demands for inquiries into the war's conduct and the resignation of Israel's wartime leaders.

Halutz has acknowledged the shortcomings, but had earlier resisted pressure to resign.

The military said yesterday that Halutz had decided to step aside now that dozens of military inquiries into various aspects of the war had been concluded.

"Now that this process has been completed, the chief of staff has asked to resign immediately," the military said in a brief statement.

None of the inquiries concluded that Halutz should quit or be dismissed.

But Army Radio reported that Halutz said in the letter of resignation that he was taking responsibility for the outcome of the war.

"For me, the word `responsibility' is very significant,'" Halutz wrote to Olmert.

"My concept of responsibility is what led me to remain in my position until this point, and to place this letter on your desk today," he wrote.

Both Olmert and Peretz accepted the chief of staff's resignation, the military said. There was no immediate word on when the resignation would go into effect.

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