|While dozens of demonstrators from around the country stood outside the government complex this morning (Sunday) to demand a public inquiry, the Cabinet did not even deal with the issue.
One of the reservists leading the protest campaign that the government's refusal to discuss the issue shows "once again that Olmert and Peretz are detached from reality and cannot take responsibility for their failures."
Instead, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert took advantage of today's meeting to tell the ministers how much better Israel's position is now than before the war:
"If someone were to say, a month and a half ago, that there would be a multi-national force, that the UN Secretary-General [Kofi Annan] would say that it could disarm Hizbullah, that the Lebanese Army would deploy in the south, that there would be an arms embargo on Lebanon and supervision of the crossings - and all this with the IDF in Lebanon without us being dragged into clashes - and that there would be an maritime and aerial closure on Lebanon - they would say he was fantasizing."
A total of 119 soldiers have been killed in Lebanon or war-related incidents over the past seven weeks, and 41 civilians were killed by Katyusha rockets.
What Did Annan Say?
Olmert's reference to Kofi Annan and the disarming of Hizbullah was unclear, as the UN Secretary-General said precisely the opposite on Friday. Associated Press reported that Annan said it was not the peacekeepers' task to strip Hizbullah of its weapons. "The troops are not going there to disarm Hizbullah. Let's be clear about that," Annan said. He added that it was an issue for Lebanon's government and "cannot be done by force."
Among the Sunday protestors demanding an inquiry were IDF reservists who fought in the war and members of the Movement for Quality in Government. One of them told Voice of Israel Radio, "If Olmert thinks he can play for time and just wait until people get tired out, he can forget it; it will not work. We will not get tired."
--An IsraelNationalRadio special:
Returning Army Reservists Air Their Grievances,
with Walter Bingham. Click to hear.
On Friday, close to 1,000 people, including families of fallen soldiers, protested at the grave of Golda Meir at Mt. Herzl, demanding the same. Mrs. Meir was Israel's Prime Minister during the Yom Kippur War in 1973, forced to give in to public pressure for a similar inquiry following that war. Signs at the protests read:
"Don't whitewash us and don't sit comfortably in the Cabinet session; we demand an official public inquiry"
"We don't need water or food [a reference to war-time difficulties]; we only want responsibility"
"Olmert, [Chief of Staff Dan] Halutz, [Foreign Minister Tzippy] Livny - We've had enough!"
Another large-scale pro-inquiry protest is scheduled this Tuesday.
Culture and Sport Minister Ophir Pines (Labor) is in favor of a public commission of inquiry. Nothing else can help rehabilitate the public's confidence in the government, he told Army Radio today. Both he and another top Labor MK - Avishai Braverman - said that Olmert should not have appointed their party leader, Amir Peretz, to the position of Defense Minister.
The Cabinet decided today to grant financial benefits to reserve soldiers who were called up to the army during the recent war. Soldiers who served at least 8 days will receive 50 shekels for each day, up to a ceiling of 1,300 shekels. The expected cost to the government: 70 million shekels ($16 million).