JERUSALEM, (Reuters) – Israel could target Hamas leaders, including Palestinian Prime Minister-designate Ismail Haniyeh, if the militant group resumes attacks in the Jewish state, Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz said on Tuesday.
Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction, has largely abided by an Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire declared a year ago and is in the process of forming a government following its surprise victory in a Jan. 25 parliamentary election.
“No one there is immune, not just Ismail Haniyeh,” Mofaz told Army Radio in response to a question about whether Israel regarded him as a target for assassination.
“The moment Hamas chooses the path of terror, there is no question here of political or non-political (leadership). This would be a terrorist leadership, and therefore none of its members would be immune,” Mofaz said.
Mofaz’s remarks, three weeks before Israel’s March 28 general election, echoed recent comments by interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s security advisers.
Olmert heads the centrist Kadima party, to which Mofaz belongs, and both men have been taking a tough public line on security as election day approaches.
“Mofaz’s threats do not scare Hamas or the Palestinian people and these tactics of blackmail and threats do not curb us,” Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, said in Gaza.
Hamas has carried out nearly 60 suicide bombings since a Palestinian uprising began in 2000 and Israel has assassinated some of the group’s senior leaders, including co-founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.
But Israel has held off targeting top Hamas officials over the past year the truce has been in effect.
In an airstrike on Monday, Israel killed two Islamic Jihad militants and three other people in the Gaza Strip, including an eight-year-old boy, Palestinian medics and witnesses said.
The Israeli army confirmed the strike on a car carrying the two militants. Islamic Jihad has carried out recent suicide bombings in Israel and numerous rocket attacks from Gaza since Israeli troops and settlers quit the territory last year.