Opposition Furious Over Claim PM Won't Address Knesset Winograd Debate

Each faction to get 5-minute slot to speak at Knesset debate after row over plan for truncated session.

Opposition lawmakers launched a furious assault on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert late Tuesday, claiming that he has no intention of speaking during the special Knesset session set for Thursday to discuss the Winograd report into the Second Lebanon War.

The opposition MKs and coalition members earlier became embroiled in a bitter row over the fact that the debate was set to last just 45 minutes, and would only feature three speakers.

A compromise was later reached allowing a representative from each faction five or 10 minutes to speak.

The chair of the Meretz faction, MK Zahava Gal-On, accused Olmert of cowardice Tuesday for declining to address the plenum.

"Olmert, who gave boastful and vain speeches to the plenum, is scared of dealing with criticism over the colossal failure for which he is responsible," she said.

MK Limor Livnat of Likud blasted the move as "an acute cheapening of the highest institution of Israeli democracy."

She said that Olmert believed that it is possible to run a country by handing videotaped footage to television channels, a reference to his televised address the night before.

"Ehud is running away again," Livnat said. "It is a grievous flight from responsibility and democracy, and he will pay a further price for this."

The original plan for was a short debate, during which representatives from just two factions would be able to speak, followed by a response from the government.

But the compromise was reached following extensive discussions between Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik and the heads of the parliamentary factions.

Under the new arrangement, one representative from both Likud and United Torah Judaism, who requested the special session, will each speak for 10 minutes, and the rest of the factions will each be allowed five minutes.

Itzik, who is also acting president, intends to open the debate.