Fri, Jun 13, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Labor to back Israeli parliament break-up

SCANDALIsraeli troops killed two Palestinian militants in a clash in the northern Gaza Strip yesterday, violence that came as a key Israeli envoy headed to Egypt

AP , JERUSALEM AND GAZA CITY

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said yesterday that his Labor Party would support dissolving Israel’s parliament if Prime Minister Ehud Olmert didn’t step aside over the latest corruption scandal to engulf him.

Olmert’s Kadima Party has agreed to start readying for a leadership primary, though no date has been set. But that apparently did not satisfy Barak, who has already threatened to topple Israel’s coalition government if the prime minister doesn’t step down.

Labor is Kadima’s main coalition partner. Olmert’s government needs Labor for a majority in parliament.

Barak did not mention Olmert by name in his statements yesterday.

He said his first preference would be “governing stability” — meaning he’d like Kadima to replace the prime minister internally rather than go to elections.

But if that doesn’t happen, he said, Labor will back draft legislation to dissolve parliament that is to be submitted on June 25.

Olmert spokesman Mark Regev had no comment on Barak’s remarks.

Police suspect Olmert illicitly took hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash from a Jewish American businessman. Olmert denies any wrongdoing and has promised to resign if indicted.

Meanwhile, Israeli troops killed two Palestinian militants in a clash in the northern Gaza Strip yesterday — a new outbreak of violence that came as a key Israeli envoy headed to Egypt in a bid to wrap up a cease-fire with the Hamas militant group.

The Israeli military said troops spotted a group of armed Palestinian men planting a bomb near the border with Israel. The army said the gunmen opened fire at the troops, and the soldiers fired back, hitting two of the militants.

Two Palestinian militant groups confirmed the deaths, saying the men were killed carrying out an unspecified operation. Palestinian medical officials were trying to recover the bodies.

The clash occurred near the Erez border crossing, the Israeli-controlled terminal that regulates the movement of people in and out of Gaza. Palestinian militants frequently attack Erez and other border crossings, viewing them as symbols of Israel’s yearlong blockade of Gaza.

Israel imposed the blockade last June after Hamas, a violent Islamic group that has killed hundreds of Israelis, violently seized control of Gaza. It has tightened the sanctions in recent months in response to increased rocket fire by Palestinian militants in Gaza.

Israel has repeatedly threatened to launch a massive ground offensive in Gaza if the rocket fire persists. But on Wednesday, Israeli leaders decided against an invasion for the meantime, saying they wanted to give Egypt more time to broker a truce between Israel and Hamas. At the same time, however, Israel, convinced Hamas will use a lull to rearm, said it would push forward with preparations for the offensive.

Israel’s point man in the cease-fire talks, Amos Gilad, was traveling to Egypt to help clinch a deal.

Israeli government and security officials said Israel is willing to give the Egyptian mediation efforts about two more weeks to succeed, but if those efforts fail, it will launch its Gaza invasion.

Egypt is acting as middleman in the truce talks because Israel has no contacts with Hamas, which has killed more than 250 Israelis in suicide attacks and rejects the Jewish state’s right to exist.

Major points of contention remain, most prominently, Israel’s demand to link the truce deal to the release of an Israeli soldier held captive by Hamas for two years, and Hamas’ demand that Israel open Gaza’s border crossings.

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