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Panel will review Israel's performance during war

JERUSALEM -- Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz yesterday created a committee to investigate Israel's conduct during the 34-day fight against Hezbollah guerrillas, senior defense officials said.

The committee, made up of business executives and retired generals, will be chaired by former army chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak.

It will look into the army's preparedness ahead of the fighting and is to present its preliminary finding within three weeks, the officials said.

The formation of the committee was a step toward addressing criticism over the handling of the conflict but fell short of meeting growing demands for the creation of an independent commission of inquiry to investigate both the government's and the military's performance.

Israel lost 118 Israeli soldiers and 39 civilians in the conflict that began July 12, when Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid. Reservists also complained of lack of essential equipment.

Civilians criticized the poor maintenance of bomb shelters and the failure of government agencies to get the right help swiftly to residents of northern Israel, where nearly 4,000 Katyusha rockets killed civilians, closed down businesses and many essential services, and caused widespread damage.

Army Radio quoted Peretz as saying at a meeting of generals yesterday that setting up the committee did not imply any criticism of the military but was a ``professional examination to learn the lessons and draw conclusions."

Besides Lipkin-Shahak, it will include former air force chief Herzl Bodinger, former defense ministry head Ilan Biran, and Eli Hurvitz, chairman of Israel-based pharmaceutical giant Teva.

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