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Summary Article: Olmert, Ehud from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Israeli right-of-centre politician, prime minister 2006–09. Deputy prime minister from 2003, he became acting prime minister in January 2006 after Ariel Sharon suffered a severe stroke. Parliamentary elections in March 2006 confirmed him in power. In August 2006, Olmert launched a military offensive against Hezbollah in Lebanon, who were holding hostage an Israeli soldier and carrying out rocket attacks into the north of Israel. After 33 days of fighting, Israel agreed to a UN-imposed ceasefire, after failing to destroy Hezbollah, and Olmert lost much popularity. His premiership was marred by allegations of corruption and he stood down as leader of his Kadima party in October 2008, being replaced by his foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, but remained as prime minister until a general election was held in February 2009.

A long-time ally of Ariel Sharon, Olmert led the election campaign for the Likud party in 2003 and supported Sharon's planned withdrawal of Israeli settlers from the Gaza strip and parts of the West Bank, something which Olmert had earlier opposed. In 2005, when Sharon left Likud and formed his own Kadima party, Olmert joined him in Kadima. After becoming acting prime minister, Olmert stated in January 2006 that he was not opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state and that Israel would need to give up parts of the West Bank to maintain its Jewish majority. He pledged to achieve lasting peace with the Palestinians, but from March 2006 Hamas, which calls for the destruction of Israel, had power in the Palestinian National Authority.

Born near Binyamina, in the British Mandate of Palestine, his father was a founder of the militant Zionist group Irgun and a member of Israel's parliament, the Knesset. After studying at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem Olmert set up a successful law partnership in Jerusalem. He was injured when serving as an infantry officer with the Israeli defence forces in the 1960s, and completed his military service as a military correspondent. First elected to the Knesset in 1973 for the right-wing Likud, he was minister for minority affairs 1988–90 and minister of health 1990–92. He served two terms as mayor of Jerusalem from 1993, before returning to the Knesset in 2003. As well as being deputy prime minister from 2003, he was industry, trade, and labour minister, communications minister (from 2004), and finance minister (from 2005).

During his premiership, between December 2008 and January 2009 there was a three-week military conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, involving Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli air strikes and claiming over a thousand lives.

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