Olmert: Lebanon war report raises "uneasy questions"

( dpa ) - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Thursday his government was already implementing the lessons from the 2006 war with Lebanon's Hezbollah.

Reacting to a critical report by an Israeli commission of inquiry into the war, Olmert said his government was "busy every day rectifying the mistakes and we are not talking about formal chances - the changes are fundamental."

The report, he told legislators of his ruling, centrist Kadima party in Tel Aviv, was "profound and all-encompassing" and raised "questions which are not easy."

The government-appointed commission of inquiry, headed by retired Justice Eliyahu Winograd, published the report late Wednesday, 18 months after the 33-day war between Israel and the Lebanese Shiite militant movement.

The commission said it found "great and grave faults" in the decision-making of both government and military, but did neither include "personal conclusions" nor recommend the resignation of Olmert or other political and military leaders.

While former defence minister Amir Peretz and the then army chief of staff have already resigned since the war - which ended inconclusively and without Israel securing the release of two soldiers abducted by Hezbollah - Olmert has vowed he will not resign.

Defending himself, he has said the war changed the status quo in southern Lebanon in Israel's favour, with Lebanon enforcing sovereignty in the area and a larger international peace-keeping force deploying along the border.

He has also pledged to oversee implementation of the war's lessons himself.

Israeli media Thursday quoted confidants to the premier as saying he was relieved by the report, which was less harsh than an interim report published by the commission in April.

The final version confirmed his intention to stay in office and removed the "moral stain" from his forehead, they said.

Olmert was now planning to resume talks to extend his coalition and intended to include the ultra-orthodox United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party, they said, while opposition politicians continued to call for his resignation.

A poll published in the Ma'ariv daily Thursday said a majority (57 per cent) of Israelis still believed Olmert should resign, but this was down from some 73 per cent after the April report. The poll however did not say how many Israelis were surveyed and gave no margin of error.

Members of the coalition Labour Party close to Defence Minister Ehud Barak, meanwhile, told Israel Radio he was not assumed to leave the government. Barak himself only intended to make a statement in the coming days, after reading the whole report, including the secret part, they said.

The commission of experts said Israel's political and military leadership failed to achieve a "clear military victory" over a paramilitary organization of thousands of fighters, even with "the strongest army in the Middle East, which enjoys absolute air superiority and advantages in size and technology."

At the same time, the commission's chair said the Israeli ground offensive in the final days of the war had been "virtually inevitable."

The ground offensive had been most heavily criticized by Olmert's critics.

The war began on July 12, 2006 with an unprovoked cross-border attack by Hezbollah in northern Israel. The attackers kidnapped two Israeli soldiers, whose fate has been unknown since then.

More than 1,200 Lebanese, most of them civilians, and 164 Israelis, 45 of them civilians, were killed in the month-long war.

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