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Israeli government in crisis after key minister quits

Israeli government close to collapse after Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman resigns over recent Gaza ceasefire
Avigdor Lieberman resigned over Gaza ceasefire (AFP)

Israel's government has been plunged into a crisis on Wednesday that could potentially force the country into an early election, after Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman resigned and withdrew his party from the ruling coalition on Wednesday over ceasefire talks with Hamas. 

Far-right Education Minister Naftali Bennett's Jewish Home quickly compounded the crisis by threatening to also withdraw from the ruling political coalition - which would deprive it of a majority in parliament - unless Bennett is appointed as Lieberman's replacement.

"Without the security portfolio, Jewish Home will not continue as a partner in the government," tweeted the party's chairperson Shuli Mualem. 

The Times of Israel reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had already begun talks with coalition partners and senior members of his own Likud party to stabilise his government. 

This government can see out its days

- Israeli Prime Minister's spokesman Jonathan Ulrich

Lieberman resigned in protest against ongoing talks for a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. 

"What happened yesterday – the truce combined with the process with Hamas - is capitulating to terror. It has no other meaning," Lieberman said in a televised press conference, also referring to Tuesday's agreement to end a two-day escalation with Hamas that started on Sunday. 

"What we're doing now as a state is buying short-term quiet, with the price being severe long-term damage to national security."

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, the first from the government to respond, called the resignation a "gift to Hamas" - a sentiment seemingly shared by senior Hamas political leader Sami Abu Zahri, who called it a "recognition of defeat".

Lieberman, well known for his hardline right-wing political stance, called for new elections - though Netanyahu's government could technically continue to operate without Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu party, though with only 61 out of the 120 seats in parliament. 

It was because of that slight majority, and the need for greater stability, that Netanyahu invited Israel Beiteinu to join his coalition in 2016.

His camp has already insisted that elections, due in 2019, do not need to be called at this point. 

Translation: Palestinians hand out sweets in Gaza City to celebrate the resignation of the minister of the occupation army Avigdor Lieberman in the context of the latest confrontation with the resistance. #Gaza_Victorious

"There is no need to go to an election during what is a sensitive period for national security. This government can see out its days," said spokesman Jonatan Urich on Twitter after Lieberman's resignation, which will take 48 hours to go into effect after he submits his official resignation letter.

Israel's agreement to a ceasefire after this week's escalation over Gaza has prompted protests in Israel among those demanding a harsher blow against Hamas. 

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Netanyahu defended the agreement during a speech on Wednesday, saying he understood the public criticism but that some security-based decisions had to be made without public involvement. 

"I wish I could share with the citizens of Israel everything I know, but with the security of Israel – it is mostly hidden from view. Our enemies have pleaded for a ceasefire, and they know very well why," he said.

The fighting exploded after an Israeli unit was exposed during a covert operation inside Gaza, leading to a shootout between the Israeli soldiers and Hamas fighters. 

Israel used air support to withdraw its soldiers and seven Palestinians, including a Hamas commander, as well as one Israeli soldier were killed in the exchange. 

Hamas responded with a barrage of rockets targeted at Israel, killing one Palestinian and injuring dozens of Israelis, while Israel continued to carry out air strikes, destroying several buildings and killing seven more Palestinians. 

In total, at least 15 Palestinians and one Israeli have been killed between Sunday and Tuesday.

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