Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced his resignation on Wednesday in protest at a Gaza ceasefire that he called a “capitulation to terror”, weakening Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative coalition government.
“Were I to stay in office, I would not be able to look southern residents in the eye,” Lieberman said, referring to Israelis who are calling for an assault on the Gaza Strip following a surge in Palestinian rocket attacks before Tuesday’s truce took hold.
Lieberman described the ceasefire ending the worst escalation between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza since a 2014 war “capitulating to terror” and said he was quitting his post.
“What we’re doing now as a state is buying short-term quiet, with the price being severe long-term damage to national security.”
He added later: “We should agree on a date for elections as early as possible.”
The ceasefire held on Wednesday, but Netanyahu was seeking to combat criticism of the decision.
Beyond Lieberman’s resignation, several hundred Israelis living near the border with Gaza protested on Tuesday night to call for further military action.
Netanyahu defended his strategy and said: “Our enemies begged for a ceasefire.
“In times of emergency, when making decisions crucial to security, the public can’t always be privy to the considerations that must be hidden from the enemy,” he said at a ceremony on Wednesday morning in honour of Israel’s founding father David Ben-Gurion.
Hamas meanwhile called Lieberman’s resignation a “political victory for Gaza” and thousands of residents of the blockaded enclave took to the streets late Tuesday to celebrate..
Palestinian militants fired the rockets in response to a botched Israeli special forces operation inside the besieged Strip on Sunday, that saw one Israeli commander killed and threatened to lead to an all-out war.
The ensuing violence saw seven Gazans killed in 24 hours as Israeli strikes targeted militants and flattened buildings, sending fireballs and plumes of smoke into the sky.
Sirens wailed in southern Israel as militants unleashed barrages of rocket and mortar fire, sending residents rushing to shelters.
Around 460 rockets and mortar rounds were fired at Israel, the most ever in such a brief time period, the army said.
An anti-tank missile hit a bus near the Gaza border that Hamas says was being used by Israel’s army. An Israeli soldier was severely wounded.
In all, some 27 Israelis were wounded, three of them severely.
A Palestinian labourer from the occupied West Bank was killed when a rocket hit a building in the Israeli city of Ashkelon.
Lieberman said his resignation, which will go into effect 48 hours after he submits a formal letter to Netanyahu, also withdraws his far-right Israel Beitenu party from the coalition.
That would leave Netanyahu with control of just 61 of the 120 seats in parliament a year before Israel’s next election.