Assad: Olmert's government 'weakest in Israeli history'

Peres responds: What is [Assad] - the strongest president in the world?; coalition survives four no-confidence motions.

bashar assad 298 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
bashar assad 298 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Syrian President Bashar Assad proved that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's unpopularity extends to Syria when he told the Saudi newspaper Al-Jazira on Monday that "the current Israeli government is the weakest in Israel's history." Vice Premier Shimon Peres responded to Assad's statements with the query, "And what is he - the strongest president in the world?" speaking to a press conference at the Knesset. MK Yisrael Katz (Likud) said Assad's statement proved Olmert had become a "strategic threat" to Israel and must therefore be removed from office. But the Likud and the other opposition parties showed they still lacked the power to push Olmert out of office. All of the four no-confidence motions against him and his government were soundly rejected by the Knesset. The motions garnered the support of between nine and 37 lawmakers, a far cry from the 61 votes needed to oust the prime minister. Olmert's popularity has been a hot topic in the media over the last two weeks, with polls giving him less then 10 percent support with the public. The situation has been made worse by reports of possible negative findings regarding him on the part of the Winograd Committee, which is investigating the governments conduct during last summer's war with Hizbullah. Over the last week, there have been rumors that a group of Kadima MKs could split off to join the Likud or that another leading Kadima politician could take over the party. Included in such rumors are Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Construction and Housing Minister Meir Sheetrit, Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz. Olmert received a boost from Peres, who spoke in his defense both at the Kadima faction and later in a meeting with parliamentary reporters. Peres said the government was "doing fine" and that the country should be patient and "let the prime minister do his work." "I've known many, all, of the prime ministers of this country. I have to tell you that this behavior is not acceptable. Before the prime minister even has a chance to work, we are attacking him," said Peres. "My job is to support the prime minister... to support this government." He urged the party and the public to reserve judgment and to wait for the the Winograd Report with optimism. "If we do not have hope, the nation will not follow us," said Peres. Olmert has led the country well, said Peres, adding that from an economic perspective, the country has never been better. What has been achieved in the last 10 months since Olmert took office has never been done before, Peres said. Referring to rumors that one-third of the 29 Kadima Party MKs were interested in joining the Likud, Peres said there was not a single party in the Knesset that would break apart in such a manner. "There is no end to the gossip," Peres said, adding that for the good of the nation, it was important that the party remain united. It could not afford to show weakness or division, he said. Peres said it was "very possible" that Olmert would recover from his low approval ratings and go on to become a popular prime minister. Environment Minister Gideon Ezra of Kadima told The Jerusalem Post that Olmert's government had more support within the Knesset then that of former prime minister Ariel Sharon. It has been much easier for this government to pass laws then the previous one, he said. On Monday, Olmert proved he could muster support for legislative change when his government won the support of 83 lawmakers to pass a law to compensate polio patients. Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik (Kadima) thanked Olmert for his help in passing the bill and added that she was pleased he was her prime minister. AP contributed to this report.