JERUSALEM, (Reuters) – Israel’s Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert convened top advisers on Tuesday to decide on a possible military strike on the new Hamas-led Palestinian Authority after a suicide bomber killed nine people in Tel Aviv.
Hamas stirred Israeli and Western ire by calling Monday’s attack by fellow militant group Islamic Jihad an act of “self defence”.
It was the first Palestinian bombing in Israel since Hamas took power three weeks ago, and the deadliest since 2004, prompting some to call for a full-scale armed response.
“To destroy a terrorist state — I certainly think that is what’s required,” Roni Bar-On, a senior official in Olmert’s centrist Kadima Party, told Israel Radio.
“We have a very wide array of potential targets. They (Hamas) cannot be allowed to hide beneath the ugly wings of Islamic Jihad.”
Olmert declared the Palestinian Authority, formed under 1993 interim accords, a “terrorist entity” after Hamas won January elections. But Israel has so far refrained from assaults on the Palestinian Authority’s new leadership or institutions.
Olmert, who has yet to form a government following Israeli elections last month, is under pressure not to undermine U.S.-led efforts to isolate the Hamas government diplomatically and financially unless it embraces peacemaking.
“Ehud Olmert today faces a significant test of leadership,” commentator Ben Caspit wrote in Maariv daily. Targeting Hamas leaders risked being “self-defeating at the height of an impressive international campaign” against the group, he said.
Since Kadima has no parliamentary majority, Olmert must cobble together a coalition strong enough to push through his plan of withdrawing from some of the occupied West Bank and setting Israel’s border around Jewish settlement blocs.
Palestinians seeking statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which Israel quit last year, condemn the plan as a land-grab. They say it boosts support for Hamas, which is sworn to the Jewish state’s destruction rather than co-existence.
The moderate Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, condemned the Tel Aviv bombing as another blow to efforts to stem more than five years of bloodshed. He vowed to arrest those involved, although Hamas has said it will not move against militants involved in attacks against Israel.
Israeli forces detained the suicide bomber’s father and teenaged brother around the West Bank town of Jenin overnight, Palestinian security sources said. They said about 30 Palestinians were detained in raids in the northern West Bank.
The Israeli army confirmed carrying out several arrests of suspected militants.
While an offensive against Hamas could win key right-wing support for Olmert, it could also alienate Kadima’s most likely junior partner in government, the centre-left Labour Party, which has advocated resuming peace negotiations with Abbas.
“We should fight terror, by all means, but not at the cost of cutting off any chance of talks with the pragmatists,” Ami Ayalon, a senior Labour member touted as possible defence minister in a Kadima-led coalition, told Reuters.
Hamas was scheduled to hold a routine Palestinian cabinet meeting in Gaza later on Tuesday.
It faces challenges on many fronts, especially finding fresh aid sources following cuts from the West to the new government. Japan said on Tuesday it would not give new aid via the government until Hamas committed to the Mideast peace process.