WORLD / Middle East

Israel preparing to reoccupy Gaza Strip
Updated: 2006-04-21 20:00

In a growing barrage of Israeli pressure against Hamas, a senior military commander said Israel is actively preparing to reoccupy the Gaza Strip and a powerful lawmaker said the entire Palestinian Cabinet could be targeted for assassination after the appointment of a wanted militant to head a new security force.

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar, talks to reporters in Damascus on Thursday, April 20, 2006. Zahar, who arrived in Damascus earlier in the day, met with Syrian President Bashar Assad and Vice-President Farouk al-Sharaa. His visit is part of an Arab tour to raise funds for his cash-strapped government. Hamas officials have been flying around the Middle East to ask for aid to compensate for the U.S. and European Union's decisions to cut off funds to the Palestinian Authority because of the militant group's refusal to renounce violence and recognize Israel. [AP]

Officials said there were no immediate plans to strike at the Hamas-led government. But the comments reflected rising Israeli impatience with the Islamic militant group, which has refused to renounce violence, defended a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv this week and failed to halt militant rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

"If the price we have to pay becomes unreasonable as a result of increased attacks, then we shall have to take all steps, including occupying the Gaza Strip," Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant, head of Israel's southern command, told the Maariv daily.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told Turkey's state-run news agency Friday that reoccupation of the Gaza Strip would be a "deadly mistake."

Israel withdrew from Gaza last summer, ending 38 years of military occupation. Since the pullout, militants have fired rockets into southern Israel on a nearly daily basis.

Tensions were further heightened on Thursday when Hamas said it was forming a new security force commanded by Jamal Abu Samhadana, who heads a group responsible for many of the rocket attacks and is a suspect in a deadly attack on an American convoy.

Israeli lawmaker Danny Yatom, a retired head of the Mossad spy agency, said that not only Samhadana but the entire Hamas Cabinet is now a legitimate target for assassination.

"I understand that our sights are also trained on Hamas ministers, not only on the police chief," Yatom told Israel Radio. "Nobody who deals with terror can have immunity by any means, even if he holds a ministerial portfolio in the Hamas government."

Yatom, a member of the center-left Labor Party, did not name any particular minister as a potential target.

During five years of fighting, Israel has killed dozens of militants in "targeted killings." Samhadana is high on Israel's wanted list and has been the target of at least one attempted Israeli assassination.

"We have old scores to settle with this murderer," Israeli Cabinet minister Zeev Boim told Israel Radio. "He has no immunity and we will have to settle this score sooner or later."
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