Israel threatens to topple Gaza's Hamas rulers

Israel threatened to topple the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers on Monday following a surge of cross-border rocket attacks by the Palestinian Islamist group.

“I believe a combination of steps against Hamas in Gaza will bring an end to the Hamas regime in Gaza,” Israel’s Vice-Premier, Haim Ramon, told reporters. “They will not last. It will take a few months, maybe it will take a year.”

Defence Minister Ehud Barak said Israel would intensify air strikes and ground incursions in Gaza and would prepare for a possible broader offensive.

Speaking days after an eight-year-old Israeli boy was injured by cross-border rocket fire and had part of his leg amputated, Barak said the armed forces would work in “every way” to stop the salvoes launched at southern Israel by Gazan militants.

“The operations continue every day and every night and will intensify further,” he told Parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, according to his spokesperson.

“It will not happen in another two days, or in another two weeks, but we will bring about a solution to the Qassam rocket fire.”

Militants in the Gaza Strip regularly pound southern Israel with rockets and mortars.
While the salvoes rarely cause death or injury they have traumatised residents and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert faces pressure to order tougher reprisals.

Olmert, who is wary of launching a major ground offensive in the densely populated coastal territory for fear of heavy casualties on both sides, gave his strongest hint yet on Sunday that Israel could target political leaders of Hamas.

‘Wishful thinking’

Echoing Olmert, Ramon said he was recommending to the Cabinet that it step up its campaign against Hamas Islamists by targeting all leaders who are “directly or indirectly” involved in attacks against Israelis.

He also said Israel should respond to cross-border attacks by immediately attacking areas in the coastal territory from where rockets are launched and by tightening restrictions on supplies of electricity and fuel to Gaza.

The Islamist group seized control of the Gaza Strip in June after routing the secular forces of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction. Abbas holds sway in the West Bank and has since opened United States-backed peace talks with Israel.

Hamas dismissed Ramon’s comments as “wishful thinking” and said Israel was in cahoots with Abbas, who wanted to oust Hamas from the Gaza Strip.

“Betting on siege and aggression to topple Hamas would prove to be a complete failure,” Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said.

Barak reiterated on Monday the military was preparing for “the possibility of an extensive operation in Gaza”, according to his spokesperson, but did not suggest an offensive was imminent.

Israel has tightened economic sanctions in Gaza and regularly raids the territory in an effort to stop attacks. Such operations have killed about 700 Palestinians over the past 12 months, Gazan officials say. Two Israelis were killed last year by cross-border rocket attacks from Gaza.

The Jewish state pulled troops and settlers out of the territory in 2005 but still controls most of its borders.

Violence in the enclave and any tougher Israeli action could complicate peace talks, which US President George Bush hopes will lead to a deal before he leaves office to create a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.—Reuters

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