Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz warned that Hamas’s Palestinian prime minister-designate Ismail Haniya would not be immune from assassination if the radical Islamists carried out attacks.
“From the moment when Hamas continues on the path of terrorism, nobody in the movement will benefit from immunity,” Mofaz said when asked on army radio about the possibility of Haniya being subject to a targeted killing operation.
Haniya has been tasked by Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas to form a government following Hamas’s massive victory in a January 25 general election.
Hamas has carried out dozens of anti-Israeli suicide attacks during the course of a five-year Palestinian uprising although none in the past 12 months.
Two Hamas leaders, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdelaziz al-Rantissi, were killed in Israeli air strikes two years ago. Haniya was also present with Yassin during an earlier assassination attempt in September 2003.
More recently, Israel has targeted leaders of the extremist Islamic Jiahd movement which has continued to carry out attacks, including seven suicide bombings in the past year.
Two members of Jihad died in an air strike on Gaza City on Monday but three children were also killed in the attack, which prompted stinging international criticism from the United Nations.
Mofaz vowed that the so-called targeted killing operations would continue. “This policy is just and it will be pursued,” he said, adding that the strikes were carried out with “surgical precision”.
Questioned specifically about the deaths of an eight-year-old and two 15-year-old boys in Monday’s strike, Mofaz said he was “sorry when civilians are hit.”
“But if you weigh the advantages and disadvantages (of targeted killings), you can see that when we acted against Hamas, the situation changed. For this to work with Jihad, we need a little bit of patience,” he added.
The commander of Israel’s air force, Eliezer Shkedy, said his forces made every effort not to hurt civilians but that in war it was not always possible.
“We are making superhuman efforts not to hurt those who are not involved in terrorism but we do not succeed every time. It’s a war,” he told army radio.
The UN Middle East peace envoy, Alvaro de Soto, stressed his opposition to what he called “extra-judicial killings, for reasons which include the danger they pose to innocent bystanders.
“While recognising Israel’s right to defend itself, particularly from rocket attacks, I call on the Israeli military authorities to desist from extra-judicial killings and show maximum restraint at this delicate time.”
Mofaz’s comments about Haniya come amid the countdown to an Israeli general election on March 28, with the ruling Kadima party keen to deflect any suggestion they are “soft on terrorism.”
Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the right-wing opposition Likud party, has claimed Hamas’s victory was a direct result of the government’s decision to pull troops and settlers out of the Islamists’ Gaza Strip stronghold last year.
Another leading Kadima candidate, the former Shin Beth internal security chief Avi Dichter, also threatened Haniya over the weekend.
“If Haniya and his people continue their policy of terror and assassinations when they are in power, they will find themselves behind bars or joining Sheikh Yassin,” said Dichter.
Hamas reacted to Mofaz’s comments by accusing Israel of conducting “state terrorism”.
“Hamas does not fear these threats and blackmail. We are committed to the defence of our rights and our people whatever the price,” spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP.
“These comments by the Israeli defence minister are an illustration of state terrorism.”
Source: AFP via Yahoo! News