Livni has so far made no comment since the release of the report from the government appointed Winograd report that heavily criticised the government’s handling of the war against Hezbollah last summer.

Standing firm

But hours before the extraordinary cabinet meeting, called to discuss the report's findings, the head of Kadima's parliamentary bloc in the Knesset called on Olmert to step down, saying it would be "suicidal" for the party, formed a year and a half ago, if he remained.

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Olmert admitted that "there is no doubt that the report points at some extremely serious failures in the government's conduct and naturally first and foremost of me."

But he has refused to bow to the pressure to step down. His Kadima party cannot forcibly oust him from his post, as the party's charter does not spell out such a procedure.

He urged political rivals to think before using the report to advance their position.

"To all those who are in haste in order to take advantage of the  report for political profit, I tell them not to be hasty," he said at the opening of the meeting.


But David Chater, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Jerusalem, says the political momentum is still growing against the prime minister and a lot will depend on what Livni says after their meeting.

Chater said Livni is expected to give Olmert the ultimatum "either you quit or I resign."

Livni is one of the frontrunners to replace Olmert along with Shimon Peres, the deputy prime minister who has been prime minister on two previous occasions.

Another former prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, of the Likud party, a favourite in opinion polls, could also pose a challenge if Olmert's government is toppled.

He has not commented on the Winograd report so far but is expected to address a mass rally due to be held in Rabin square in Tel Aviv on Thursday.

Cabinet departure

The fallout against Olmert was exacerbated by the resignation of Eitan Cabel, a cabinet minister from the main governing partner Labour party on Tuesday.

"I can no longer sit in a government led by Ehud Olmert," Cabel said.

Cabel became the first cabinet minister to
quit after the release of the Winograd report
Following Cabel's announcement at a news conference, the prime minister's office immediately said that Olmert would not be leaving office.
A few hours later, however, Israel's Channel 2 reported that a majority of parliamentarians from Olmert's Kadima party now believed that he should step down as leader.
The channel also said that Kadima's MPs would press Olmert to step down at a meeting expected to be held on Thursday, when parliament meets to debate the report.

A poll on Tuesday conducted by public radio found that 69 per cent of the Israeli public think the prime minister should resign and 74 per cent believe Amir Peretz, the defence minister and chairman of the Labour party, should also step down.

The government commission, appointed by Olmert seven months ago, accused him of "serious failure in exercising judgement, responsibility and prudence" during last year's war against Hezbollah.

The report was equally critical of Peretz and Dan Halutz, the then chief of staff, concluding that they had failed in fulfilling their duties.