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Middle East

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticised for ceasefire


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's governing Likud party began selecting its candidates for January's general election today in a ballot of its 123,000 members that was widely seen as a snap referendum among his most loyal supporters on his handling of the latest confrontation with Hamas in Gaza.

Mr Netanyahu has come under fire from his own right-wingers for shying away from a land invasion, deciding instead to accept a ceasefire brokered by Egypt and the US.

Commentators have taunted Mr Netanyahu with his own criticism in 2009 of the previous government for halting Operation Cast Lead "without finishing the job". A group of reserve soldiers were reprimanded after lying down in the road to spell out the words "Bibi Loser" after the ceasefire was announced, referring to the prime minister's nickname.

A poll published by the Maariv newspaper on Friday showed 49 per cent of the Israeli public in general – rising to 68 per cent of voters within his own party – favoured continuing the military operation in which more than 160 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed.

With more than 90 candidates competing for less than 30 Likud parliamentary seats, Mr Netanyahu was lobbying for key moderates, including several serving ministers, attempting to prevent a rightward drift and the election of Moshe Feiglin, head of Likud's hardline "Jewish Leadership" faction.

The Likud is planning to run a joint list with the right-wing Yisrael Beitenu ("Israel Our Home") party headed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman.

The primaries had been hailed as a high-tech celebration with online voting at 132 polling stations, but a nationwide phone disruption caused by stormy weather left many party members fuming at their inability to vote.

Following the widespread internet malfunctions, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar called for the cancellation of Sunday's vote.

He said: "The voting process is ridiculous and must be stopped immediately."