updated 5/5/2007 10:31:00 PM ET 2007-05-06T02:31:00

Israel’s defense minister said Saturday he will step down after an inquiry commission criticized his handling of the war in Lebanon last summer, but he will probably wait until his Labor Party has held its primaries at the end of the month.

The government probe found that Amir Peretz did not fulfill his duty as defense minister, in part due to his inexperience in military matters.

Peretz, who is under public pressure to resign, told Channel Two TV Saturday that he would leave his post, probably after primaries in the Labor Party which he leads.

“I have made my decision,” Peretz said. “But I think if I decided from one day to the next to get up and flee the defense ministry, I would be doing something bad, bad for the security and the state of Israel.”

About 100,000 people from across the political spectrum demonstrated Thursday in Tel Aviv to urge Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Peretz to resign.

Israel launched the 34-day war on July 12 after the Lebanese militia Hezbollah attacked an Israeli border patrol and kidnapped three soldiers. At least 1,000 Lebanese and 119 Israeli soldiers were killed. In Hezbollah rocket barrages on northern Israel, 39 civilians were killed.

The long-awaited Winograd Commission report said Olmert hastily led the country into conflict against Hezbollah guerrillas without a comprehensive plan, exercised poor judgment and bore ultimate responsibility for a war that ended inconclusively.

Probe excoriates Olmert
The probe found that Olmert was responsible for “very severe failures” in the conflict. It concluded that had Olmert, Peretz or then-army chief of staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz acted differently, the outcome of the war would have been better.

Halutz resigned in January. Peretz deflected criticism in the TV interview by saying he was relying on Halutz’s recommendations.

Olmert has said he will not resign but analysts said it was only a matter of time before he was forced out of office. Three members of his Kadima Party, including Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, called on him to resign this week.

Peretz denied that Israel had lost the war.

“Today we are much more prepared on the northern front, without a doubt,” Peretz said, about the border with Lebanon.

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