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July 7, 2014 10:02 am

Israel’s Foreign Minister Lieberman Splits Ruling Likud Beiteinu Party

avatar by Aryeh Savir / Tazpit News Agency

Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman.

Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced Monday that his political party Yisrael Beiteinu would be splitting from the ruling Likud faction of Prime Minister Netanyahu.

The long expected move, which was announced at a Knesset press conference, comes amid harsh criticism from Lieberman of Netanyahu’s handling of escalating rocket attacks from Gaza.

The party will return to operate as an independent faction as before the two parties signed a pact ahead of Israel’s 2013 general elections.

Tensions between the two leaders have been rising over the past weeks, culminating in a reported confrontation that occurred between the pair at a cabinet meeting earlier this week.

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Although the split will likely weaken Netanyahu’s political position, leaving his party with just 20 seats in Israel’s Knesset, only one more than coalition partner Yesh Atid, Yisrael Beiteinu insisted that it did not intend to weaken the government and would remain a member of the ruling coalition.

“We don’t think this is the time to split up the coalition and weaken it,” top party official, Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirschenbaum said on Army Radio. “We want to strengthen the State of Israel.”

During the press conference on Monday, Lieberman attacked Netanyahu’s response to the current precarious security situation in Israel, which is too weak in Lieberman’s opinion.

“The reality in which we live with hundreds of rockets in the hands of a terror organization that can decide at any moment to use them is intolerable,” Liberman said. “Suggestions to wait, listen, delay – it’s not clear to me what we’re waiting for. At the end of 2015 [Hamas] will have thousands of rockets [that can reach 80 kilometers]. We have to end this. We can’t live under this permanent threat, where 1.5 million people have to be ready to run to shelters at a moment’s notice.”

On Monday the Israel Defense Forces said that in recent weeks over 240 rockets and mortars were fired from the Gaza Strip, out of which roughly 189 rockets and mortars struck southern Israel, including the areas of Sderot, Netivot and Be’er Sheva; the three largest cities in the western Negev, in which approximately 247,000 civilians reside altogether.

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