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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
While most Knesset members continued to stand united behind Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, the first voices of criticism were sounded by the Meretz Party on Thursday over the operation the government has undertaken in Lebanon.
Former prime minister Ehud Barak, meanwhile, told Channel 2 that he had been right to order the IDF out of Lebanon in 2000. Many Knesset members have blamed the violence in the North on Barak's decision to withdraw overnight from southern Lebanon six years ago.
"Before we left Lebanon, rockets were fired that could reach Haifa," Barak said. "This is an attempt to test us. We need to look forward, not back. The government needs to act against Hizbullah with full force... The conditions have never been better to act to expel Hizbullah from the Israeli-Lebanese border."
Earlier, during a meeting of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, only Meretz MKs voiced criticism of operation "Just Rewards."
"The government needlessly widened the scope of the war in Lebanon, and this widening could complicate matters for us," said Ran Cohen. "We have to focus on securing the release of the kidnapped soldiers and the re-creation of IDF deterrent force against kidnappings. I don't understand how bombing the airport in Beirut accomplishes these objectives. The defense minister is leading us, in my humble opinion, to the wrong place."
Meretz faction chairman Yossi Beilin backed the military operation but asked Peretz to keep the operation's end objective in mind. "An attack on Hizbullah is justified, but in the end we will have to come to an understanding, including one with Syria," he said.
"Release of prisoners also needs to be one of the outcomes of these understandings," he added.
Meanwhile, right-wing MKs voiced support for the operation and called for harsher responses. Yuval Steinitz (Likud), the former chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, urged the air force to target Lebanese seaports.
Shteinitz said that cutting off Hizbullah from its provisions was the most effective means of teaching Lebanese government officials that they would pay a heavy price for permitting Hizbullah to continue operating in their territory.
MK Effi Eitam (NU-NRP) praised Peretz and said that "it seems that when a defense minister who is a man of peace calls for war, the whole nation is behind him."