Israel's chief government watchdog presents report on Lebanon war

An investigation into Israeli efforts to protect civilians during last summer's war in Lebanon has erupted into an open conflict pitting the military and the prime minister against the top government watchdog.

The bruising fight in the media and the courts forced state comptroller Micha Lindenstrous to cancel plans to release an interim report Tuesday that was expected to accuse the army and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of leaving civilians virtually defenseless in the face of the Hezbollah guerillas' rocket and missile barrages.

Instead, he gave a parliamentary committee a bland report on his efforts to complete the investigation, and took a swipe at Olmert, saying the premier's lack of cooperation was delaying the investigation.

Lindenstrous has been looking into the government's actions during the 34-day war last summer, when Hezbollah guerrillas fired nearly 4,000 rockets into northern Israel.

Critics have charged that residents of the north were not adequately protected, citing poor conditions in many bomb shelters, no early warning systems in some towns and no evacuation plans. A total of 159 Israelis died during the conflict, including 39 civilians.

Olmert's popularity plunged after the war which Israelis viewed as inconclusive and his approval rating has plummeted below 20 percent. Amid the fallout from the war, Lindenstrous began an investigation into the government's performance in protecting the country, while another commission was appointed to investigate the handling of the war itself.

Lindenstrous had planned to issue the preliminary findings of his report to parliament Tuesday. But officials in Olmert's office and the army complained over the weekend that the comptroller was on a witchhunt and had not given them time to answer his questions, leaving the report one-sided.

Olmert and Lindenstrous exchanged angry letters Sunday that were leaked to the media, and Lindenstrous pledged to appear before the parliamentary committee over the prime minister's objections.

On Tuesday morning, the army asked the Supreme Court to ban Lindenstrous from releasing his findings. Before the court could rule, Lindenstrous agreed to keep the report private for now and to only testify about the process of writing the report.

Even then, he took a swipe at Olmert, saying the prime minister was dragging his feet in responding to his questions, reports AP.

"Our problem was receiving the information we needed from the prime minister," he told the committee. "If we don't have the answers and background material, then all our work is delayed."

Olmert's office refused to comment Sunday on Lindenstrous' accusations.

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