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Israeli left divided over Lebanon clashes

Facing tougher than expected battles with Hizbullah, Israeli doves protest plans for a wider war.

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The rift on Israel's left was on noisy display Thursday as some 200 demonstrators carrying Israeli flags chanted "Peace, yes. War, no" outside Israel's defense ministry to protest the cabinet's decision to widen the army's ground offensive against Hizbullah. After a month of silence, Thursday's protest reflects a small but growing criticism by left wing intellectuals and politicians of a war effort being led by one of their own.

Israel's Security Cabinet approved Wednesday an expanded ground operation in south Lebanon, but has put it off to give the international community time to pursue diplomacy. Defense Minister Amir Peretz said that if American and French cease-fire efforts succeed, "We'll see the military operation as having created the diplomatic climate and a new situation.... If not, we'll use all of the tools."

But with the left-of-center Labor Party in the government and its dovish leader, Mr. Peretz, overseeing the war effort, the left's divisions seem likely to hinder the development of the kind of mass antiwar protests that took place during Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

"People like me wanted to protest, but others said, '[Israel] needs to fight back,'" says Mossi Raz, a former secretary general of Peace Now, Israel's umbrella peace movement. "As long as the Labor Party is in the government, we won't see big protests. But I don't understand how the Labor Party can be at peace with itself."

The turmoil on the left over the war is explained in part by the fact that most here feel Israel has the right to respond militarily to the July 12 kidnapping of two soldiers in a Hizbullah cross-border attack.

But as the fighting enters its fifth week, the cabinet decision to push Hizbullah north of the Litani River has emboldened doves to begin openly questioning the war effort and warn of spiraling casualties on both sides.

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