JERUSALEM, AP – Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ruled out contacts with a Hamas-led Palestinian government until the Islamic group renounces violence, and his defense minister threatened to “liquidate” Hamas militants involved in attacks.
With the latest comments, Israel showed no signs of backing down from the tough line it has taken since Hamas won a landslide victory in Palestinian legislative elections last week.
The group, which opposes the existence of Israel and has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings, is expected to lead the next Palestinian government, hurting the chances for a peace deal. However, a Hamas-backed Palestinian lawmaker said he believes the group is flexible enough to reach an understanding with Israel.
Also Sunday, about 7,000 Israeli security forces, anticipating violent resistance, were training to dismantle two small West Bank settler outposts later this week, police said. Resistance is expected to be fierce in Amona and among Israeli squatters who took over an abandoned market in the Palestinian city of Hebron.
The operation marks Israel’s first evacuation of Jewish settlers since its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank in August.
Olmert, addressing the weekly meeting of his Cabinet, said he has received widespread international support for the Israeli position toward Hamas. Officials said Olmert has been in touch with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and leaders from France, Egypt and Jordan.
“We clarified that without a clear abandonment of the path of terror, a recognition of Israel’s right to exist in security and peace … Israel won’t have any contact with the Palestinians,” Olmert said. “These principles are accepted by the international community. On this issue, I don’t intend to make any compromises.”
Olmert has not decided whether to accept defense officials’ recommendation to stop transferring to the Palestinian government the tens of millions of dollars in taxes and customs it collects monthly from Palestinians, fearing this could cause the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority to collapse, officials said.
Israel is slated to transfer the money Wednesday.
President Bush has said hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid will be cut to the cast-strapped Palestinian government unless Hamas abolishes its militant wing and stops calling for Israel’s destruction.
Later Sunday, Olmert consulted with his top security advisers. Before the meeting, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Israel was prepared to resume its deadly airstrikes on Hamas targets.
“Those who head terror organizations and continue to engage in terror against the state of Israel will be liquidated,” told Channel 2 TV on Saturday night. “Hamas knows better … what Israel’s powers and capabilities are in fighting terror.”
During five years of fighting with the Palestinians, Israel killed dozens of Hamas militants in targeted attacks, including the group’s founder and spiritual leader, Ahmed Yassin. Israel has not assassinated a prominent Hamas member since a cease-fire declaration in February 2005.
Mofaz said the coming weeks would be a “transition period” for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah Party was routed in last week’s vote and who must now find a way to work with the Islamic group.
Abbas in the past has called on Hamas to disarm, as required in the U.S.-backed “road map” peace plan, but never took action against the group.
Hamas’ supreme leader, Khaled Mashaal, said Saturday from Syria that the group would not disarm but suggested it could fold the thousands of fighters in its militant wing into a Palestinian army.
“We are ready to unify the weapons of Palestinian factions, with Palestinian consensus, and form an army like any independent state,” he said.
Israeli leaders condemned the plan, demanding an end to Hamas violence.
Hamas won 74 out of 132 seats in parliamentary elections Wednesday to Fatah’s 45. Abbas has asked Hamas to form a new government, which would put the group in charge of some Palestinian security forces. Other branches of the security services are under Abbas’ control.
Officials with Fatah, which dominates the security forces, so far have reacted coolly to suggestions that it form a coalition with the Islamists.
Ziad Abu Amr, an independent lawmaker from Gaza supported by Hamas, said Sunday he believes the gaps between the sides can be bridged. He said Hamas’ charter calling for Israel’s destruction was outdated, and he suggested the group would accept most existing agreements with Israel and allow Abbas to retain control over key security forces.
“There is a possibility, and all of these things will be easier if there is a national government in which Fatah participates,” he said.
Hamas leaders have issued mixed signals since the election, leaving the door open to negotiations and continuation of the “hudna,” or cease-fire.
“We are not going to recognize Israel,” Mahmoud Zahar, a top Hamas lawmaker from the Gaza Strip, said in comments published in London’s The Sunday Telegraph. “We can reach out to them with a long-term hudna.”
Hamas likely will come under heavy domestic and international pressure to moderate its positions and to reach out to the defeated Fatah.
On Saturday, thousands of angry Fatah supporters led by gunmen firing in the air marched in West Bank towns, calling for the resignation of their leaders and threatening to kill Fatah politicians who would join a Hamas government. In recent days, there also have been several gunfights between Hamas members and police, leaving four officers and a Hamas gunman wounded.