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Peretz eyes Treasury

Amir Peretz signaled he will not stay on as Israel’s defense minister. Peretz told political supporters late Tuesday that if he remains Labor Party chairman after the May 28 primary election, he will relinquish the defense portfolio and demand the Treasury instead as a condition for remaining in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government.

Labor polls show Peretz trailing Ami Ayalon and Ehud Barak in the primary race. If he is toppled as party chief, he automatically would forfeit the Defense Ministry and would be unlikely to win another Cabinet portfolio.

Peretz’s run as defense minister was overshadowed by last year’s Lebanon war, which many in Israel believe was mishandled by the government. In his speech, Peretz denied wrongdoing and blamed Hezbollah’s surprising military success on previous generations of Israeli defense and military chiefs who allowed the terrorist group to build power in southern Lebanon.