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Israel's top soldier faces 'land grab' investigation

A Government watchdog investigation into an alleged land grab by Israel's incoming military chief could threaten the appointment of the decorated general, a justice official said.

After winning an internal battle to become Israel's top soldier, Maj Gen Yoav Galant must answer the state comptroller's inquiry into how he expanded his large property in northern Israel. A hearing is scheduled for next week.

The affair has sparked new infighting among Israel's top military brass, and dominated media coverage. The front page of a newspaper featured an aerial photo of Galant's castle-like home, surrounded by trees and access roads.

Galant, who led Israel's 2008-2009 Gaza offensive as head of the military's Southern Command, is slated to take over from the current military chief, Lt Gen Gabi Ashkenazi, on 14 February. He has not commented on the issue.

Justice Ministry spokesman Moshe Cohen said the appointment could be delayed, or even shelved, depending on the watchdog's investigation.

Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who selected Galant, said he expects the appointment to go ahead as planned.

The story first emerged two years ago in a newspaper investigative report that cited alleged zoning and construction offenses at Galant's home on a communal farm in northern Israel. His neighbours claim he carved roads, built a car park and planted trees on land that did not belong to him.

After Galant's appointment in August, Israeli environmental groups petitioned against him. Michael Eitan, a minister who voted against the appointment, said the government should have investigated the matter more fully before giving him the job.