Israel: Hamas leaders not immune


Palestinian PM-designate Ismail Haniya will not be immune from assassination if Hamas renews attacks on Israel, the Israeli defence minister has said.

Shaul Mofaz told Israeli Army Radio the policy of targeted killings had been successful and would continue.

Mr Haniya has been nominated to form the next Palestinian government after Hamas' shock poll victory in January.

Israel's own campaign for polls on 28 March has begun, with the Kadima party of acting PM Ehud Olmert tipped to win.

Tough line
Mr Mofaz's comments came a day after two Islamic Jihad militants and three other Palestinians were killed in an Israeli air strike on a car in Gaza City.

"We will continue the targeted killings at this pace," Mr Mofaz said.

"If Hamas, a terror organisation that doesn't recognise agreements with us and isn't willing to renounce violence, presents us with the challenge of having to confront a terror organisation, then no-one there will be immune.

"Not just Ismail Haniya. No-one will be immune."

Two years ago, Israel killed two top Hamas leaders, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdelaziz al-Rantissi, in air strikes.

Hamas has launched many suicide attacks on Israeli territory in the five-year Palestinian uprising, but has largely observed an informal ceasefire for more than a year.

In contrast to Hamas, Islamic Jihad has continued to mount suicide bombings inside Israel and did not participate in the 25 January election.

Salah Bardawil, a Hamas spokesman, said Mr Mofaz's comments "reflect the bloody, inhumane and inflammatory character of the Zionist enemy".

"We are not seeking immunity or mercy from Israel. We are in a confrontation. The side that is most steadfast is the side that will survive," he said.

Hamas won 74 seats to the 45 of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah Party in January's election.

Mr Haniya is seen as a pragmatist, more open to dialogue with Israel than many other Hamas leaders although Hamas refuses to recognise Israel's right to exist.

The new parliament on Monday attempted to revoke recent legislation giving more powers to Mr Abbas, dimming hopes of forming a unity government. Fatah MPs walked out.

The BBC's correspondent in Jerusalem, Matthew Price says it is no surprise that Mr Mofaz's comment was made at the start of the Israeli election campaign, in which all leading parties are running advertisements on radio and TV.

Mr Mofaz's party, Kadima, could lose votes if it appears to be soft on the Palestinians, our correspondent says.

Recent opinion polls put Kadima well ahead.

One in the Yediot Aharonot newspaper recently predicted Kadima would win 38 seats in the 120-strong assembly, with the Labour party of Amir Peretz winning 20 and Likud under Benjamin Netanyahu gaining 15.

Kadima leader Ehud Olmert, who has headed the party since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a massive stroke in January, launched Kadima's election campaign by vowing to reduce spending on settlements in the West Bank if Kadima retained power.

"It is no secret. We are not going to invest in coming years the same kind of money that we have previously spent on construction and infrastructure development in areas beyond the Green Line," which separates Israel from the West Bank, he said.

"Instead, in the coming years we are going to accord priority status to three areas in Israel: the Negev, the Galilee and Jerusalem where we are going to invest sums which are unprecedented in the history of our country."

The international community considers all settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.