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Israeli environment minister quits 'extremist government'

Avi Gabbay said appointment of Avigdor Lieberman was an 'attack on army' that ignored security interests and would 'widen societal rifts'

Israel's environment minister announced his resignation on Friday, saying the appointment of a hardline nationalist as defence minister had created an "extremist government".

Avi Gabbay, of the centre-right Kulanu party, is not a member of parliament and his resignation does not affect the ruling rightwing coalition's majority.

"I see the recent political moves and the replacement of the defence minister as grave acts that ignore what's important to national security, and will widen societal rifts," he said.

"I cannot be partner to this line of action."

Under the agreement announced on Wednesday, Avigdor Lieberman will become defence minister and his Yisrael Beitenu party will join Netanyahu's coalition, adding five parliamentarians to his previously wafer-thin parliamentary majority.

But Gabbay said he could not accept the removal of Moshe Yaalon, Lieberman's predecessor, who he said had been a "professional defence minister". Lieberman's appointment, he said, amounted to an "attack on the army" that would undermine relations with the US.

"A defence minister in a country surrounded by enemies isn't just another minister," he said.

"He is the most important minister … the removal of a professional and reasonable defence minister who in a year managed to calm the uprising is a step I couldn't make peace with."

The United States, Israel's key supporter, has said that the new coalition raises "legitimate questions" about the Netanyahu government's commitment to a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

US State Department spokesman Mark Toner, in a rare comment on Israeli internal politics, said on Wednesday that Washington had "seen reports from Israel describing it as the most right-wing coalition in Israel's history".

"And we also know that many of its ministers have said they oppose a two-state solution," he said.