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Political Crisis in Israel Averted, but Gaza Truce Shaky

By Jim Teeple
25 June 2008

Israel's Prime Minister has avoided a split with a major coalition partner and possible dissolution of his government in a deal that could end his own political career in three months. VOA's Jim Teeple reports the political developments came as a shaky cease-fire in Gaza showed more signs of unraveling.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reached a last-minute deal with his coalition partner, Labor Party leader Ehud Barak, that put off a Labor Party vote supporting a parliamentary measure that would have dissolved the Israeli Knesset and led to new elections.

The measure was proposed by the right-wing Likud Party, which polls say is favored to win new elections. Mr. Olmert had threatened to fire Labor ministers in his Cabinet if their party supported the measure.

Under the compromise, Mr. Olmert will now submit himself to an internal vote for leader of his Kadima Party on September 25. Tzachi Hanegbi, a close ally of Mr. Olmert's, who negotiated the deal with Barak said new elections had been avoided - for now.

Hanegbi says Israel has extricated itself from the daily preoccupation of when elections would be called that has dominated political discourse in recent weeks.

It is unclear if Mr. Olmert can win a leadership contest in his own party. Israel's prime minister is waiting to see if he will be indicted in a corruption probe related to funds he received from an American businessman while he was Mayor of Jerusalem and as a cabinet minister.

Mr. Olmert has declared his innocence, saying any funds he received were for political purposes only and he has pledged to resign if indicted.

While one crisis was averted in Israel, another appears to be growing. Last week's cease-fire between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants in Gaza appears to be on shaky ground after Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants fired rockets Tuesday at the southern Israeli city of Sderot. Israel has retaliated by closing Gaza's border crossings to food deliveries.

Israeli officials are also expressing doubts about releasing a number of Hamas prisoners it holds. Israel says it will not release militants who have murdered Israelis. The prisoners would be part of an exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit who was captured by Palestinian militants two years ago. Hamas leader Ismail Radwan warned Israel it has little choice.

Radwan says Hamas will not give up Shalit for free and he could stay a prisoner for the rest of his life if Israel does not cooperate.

At the same time, Hamas leaders say they continue to support the week-old truce, saying they have urged groups like Islamic Jihad to hold their fire and not attack Israel.


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