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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 August 2006, 15:28 GMT 16:28 UK
Israel reservists vent war anger
By Bethany Bell
BBC News, Jerusalem

Israeli reservists and their spouses protest outside the prime minister's office
The reservists are calling for those in charge to step down

A row of tents has been pitched in the rose garden outside the office of the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, in Jerusalem.

Red banners of protest hang in the cypress trees.

For the past few days, a group of Israeli reserve soldiers has taken up camp here.

Every night they are joined by several hundred of their comrades.

They have just returned from the war in Lebanon and they are angry.

[The political and military leaders] messed up and they have to pay the price, take responsibility, return the keys and go home. In a state like Israel, there's no place for mistakes like this
Israeli army officer

During the conflict, 117 soldiers were killed - 50 of them were reservists.

Because of Israel's small population of about 6.4 million citizens, the army depends heavily on the reserves in times of war.

Most reservists supported the fight against Hezbollah and were happy to do their duty in battle. But now that the war is over, they say Israel's political and military leaders were ill-prepared and indecisive during the campaign.

'Bad preparation'

Shai, an officer, who fought in southern Lebanon, blames both the government and the army for Israel's failure to defeat Hezbollah.

"Ninety per cent of the population in Israel said it was justified to go to this war," he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during a visit to Kiryat Shmona
Ehud Olmert has promised a thorough investigation

"What we're protesting about is the way it was managed, it was managed so stupidly. The prime minister, the defence minister and the chief of staff, just said go in, go in, go in, but they didn't do it wisely. We're much stronger, we could have won this war, but they didn't let us."

Another protester, Baruch Eitam, a paratrooper, said bad organisation during the war undermined the army's ability to defend Israel.

"We found that the preparations that should have been made were not made," he said.

"Our gear - personal weapons and other equipment for the mission which was supposed to be ready for us - was not there. It took us a couple of days to organise it before we were ready for the mission."

'Pay the price'

In a letter to the Israeli army, the chief of staff, Gen Dan Halutz, has admitted there were shortcomings in the military's performance during the Lebanese war. He has promised a thorough investigation - as has Israel's political leadership.

But that is not enough for these reservists. As well as a far-reaching inquiry, they want Mr Olmert, Gen Halutz and the defence minister, Amir Peretz, to step down.

"They messed up and they have to pay the price, take responsibility, return the keys and go home," said Shai. "In a state like Israel, there's no place for mistakes like this."

Israel's political and military leaders are hoping that the protests may eventually die down and that the reservists will eventually return home to their families.

But the reservists in the rose garden are determined to maintain the pressure.

They have planned more protest actions for the coming days.

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