JERUSALEM (AFP) — Prime Minister Ehud Olmert braced on Tuesday for the release of a key report into Israel's 2006 war in Lebanon, expected to roast his conduct during the conflict and spark fresh calls for him to quit.
The government-appointed commission headed by former judge Eliyahu Winograd is to issue its final report on Wednesday, eight months after an interim inquiry found the premier and other political and military leaders responsible for "severe failures."
Ahead of the report, an official with Olmert's main coalition partner Labour called on him to resign over the war, widely considered a failure in Israel for failing to halt Hezbollah rocket fire and retrieve two seized soldiers.
"The interim report of this commission had already demanded that the prime minister assume his responsibilities for the failures of the Lebanon war," Eitan Cabel, secretary general of the centre-left Labour, told public radio.
"Olmert supporters invoke all sorts of arguments (for him to remain in power), like the need to continue the peace process with the Palestinians or the battle against Hamas or Iran, but nothing justifies him remaining in command," he said.
Although the final Winograd report is not expected to contain a direct call for Olmert to resign, an official closely involved in the commission's work has told AFP that "the report will be as harsh as the previous one."
Families of those killed in the conflict, reservists and politicians have renewed calls for Olmert to step down.
The 62-year-old Olmert, widely considered to be one of Israel's savviest politicians, is the only senior leader criticised in the preliminary report to have hung on to his job after the war.
Former army chief Dan Halutz quit a year ago and ex-defence minister Amir Peretz was ousted from the ministry and the head of his Labour party less than two months after the Winograd interim findings.
Olmert, who has also been embroiled in allegations of corruption, has been quoted as saying he has "absolutely no intention" of stepping down.
His future largely depends on Labour -- if the party quits the government, it would leave Olmert's coalition short of the 61 seats needed for a majority in the 120-member parliament.
Labour's chairman, Defence Minister Ehud Barak, has said he would decide on whether to quit only after the report is released.
Although he has hinted he did not wish to bring down the government, he might be unable to resist public pressure.
An opinion poll published by privately owned Channel 10 television found that 58 percent of Israelis wanted the prime minister to step down if the commission's criticism of his conduct of the war was "very severe", against 23 percent who said he should stay on whatever the findings.
A second poll carried by public radio found that 51 percent of Israelis believed the premier would manage to keep his job against 39.4 percent who thought he would be forced to quit.
Olmert's departure would likely lead to new elections which opinion polls suggest would bring victory for the right-wing Likud party.
"The public dynamic will develop according to the degree of criticism in the report and the ability of those calling for Olmert's resignation to create momentum," said Nahum Barnea, a senior columnist in the mass-selling Yediot Aharonot daily.
The spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, the third largest coalition partner, said on Tuesday his movement will not quit.
"Do not fret because I am with you," a party official quoted rabbi Ovadia Yossef as telling Olmert in a telephone conversation.
The conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, sparked after the Shiite militia seized two soldiers in a deadly cross-border raid on July 12, killed more than 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and more than 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.
The report was expected to focus on Olmert's controversial decision to order a massive ground offensive in south Lebanon 60 hours before a UN-brokered ceasefire agreement was due to take effect on August 14.
Thirty-three Israeli soldiers were killed in the offensive launched just one hour after the final version of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 was presented to Israel.
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