We risk charges of war crimes, Peres tells Cabinet

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Signs of deep rifts within the Israeli Cabinet became apparent yesterday as senior figures clashed over the continuing fierce bombardment of the Palestinians.

In a sharp exchange during a Cabinet meeting, the Foreign minister Shimon Peres said excessively harsh military measures could lead to accusations of war crimes. A newspaper report of Mr Peres' bitter exchange with the infrastructure minister, Avigdor Lieberman, was confirmed yesterday by Mr Lieberman's spokesman.

According to the report in the Yediot Ahronot newspaper, Mr Lieberman urged that Palestinians be told to halt all terror activity or face wide-ranging attacks.

"At 8am we'll bomb all the commercial centres... at noon we'll bomb their gas stations... at two we'll bomb their banks," Mr Lieberman reportedly told the meeting before Peres interrupted to say: "And at 6pm you'll receive an invitation to the international tribunal in The Hague."

Mr Peres yesterday sounded the cautionary notes as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised that Israel would continue to strike "without let-up" unless Palestinian attacks were reined in. The escalating violence has fuelled debate inside Mr Sharon's government over whether any political resolution can be found after days of bloodshed. Mr Peres said yesterday that force alone was not the answer. "A ceasefire cannot be achieved just by using fire," he said.

Citing the "terrible, terrible" violence of recent days, Mr Peres said that Israel should demand from the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat a clear-cut declaration that he would halt terror, but also have its own army do everything possible "not to escalate the situation".