JERUSALEM, March 7. —Israel warned today that it would assassinate the incoming Palestinian Prime Minister and other Hamas politicians if the Islamic militant group resumes attacks, but the acting Israeli premier also pledged a drastic cut in spending on Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Today, defence minister Mr Shaul Mofaz of Kadima told Army Radio that Israel would not hesitate to assassinate Hamas leaders if the group resumes attacks against Israel. Acting Prime Minister Mr Ehud Olmert and others in his front running Kadima Party delivered these messages just three weeks before Israel’s election.
The centrist Kadima, which is trying to court both hardline and dovish voters, is expected to form the next government, but has been sliding in the polls. In recent days, party officials have been more forthcoming about their post-election agenda, apparently to stem the erosion in voter support. Earlier this week, Mr Olmert’s key security adviser said Israel would dismantle more West Bank settlements and try to draw its final borders in the next four years.
Another key campaign issue is Israel’s position on Hamas, which won the Palestinian parliament election in January and is poised to form the next Palestinian government. Hardline candidates have accused Mr Olmert of being too soft on Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction and refuses to renounce violence.
Asked specifically about Ismail Haniyeh, the designated Prime Minister from Hamas, Mr Mofaz said: “If Hamas… presents us with the challenge of having to confront a terror organisation, then no one there will be immune. Not just Ismail Haniyeh. No one will be immune.” Haniyeh brushed aside the warnings. “The continued escalation aims to shed more Palestinian blood, confuse the situation and hamper… the formation of the Palestinian government,” Haniyeh said during a session of the Palestinian Parliament in Gaza City. In the past five years, Israel has killed scores of suspected militants, along with Palestinian bystanders, in so-called targeted attacks, usually missile strikes from helicopters. Among those killed were Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin and his successor, Abdel Aziz Rantisi.