Israel's defense minister has warned that leaders of the militant Islamic group Hamas could be targeted by the Israeli Army, if they resume attacks on Israel. The comments come as Israel's acting prime minister says he plans to reduce spending on West Bank settlements, if his party wins upcoming elections, March 28.
Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz says his country's policy of targeting and killing terrorists is effective and has saved many Israeli lives.
In an interview with Israel's Army Radio on Tuesday, Mr. Mofaz defended the practice, saying the militant group Hamas was forced to change tactics after Israel targeted Hamas militants who he says were involved in suicide bombings against Israel.
Mr. Mofaz says the targeted killings will continue as long as necessary. He says, if Hamas resumes terrorist attacks against Israel, then Israel could target Hamas leaders, including Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.
Mr. Mofaz says Hamas is a terrorist organization that does not recognize any agreements with Israel - adding that no one will be immune from being targeted by Israel, including Mr. Haniyeh if Israel is confronted with terrorism.
The Israeli defense minister's comments were denounced by Salah al-Bardwil, a Hamas spokesman, who says they reflect what he describes as the "the bloody, inhumane and inflammatory character of the Zionist enemy."
Mr. Mofaz spoke just a day after Israel targeted two senior Islamic Jihad militants in a Gaza Strip air strike. The two militants were killed, along with three bystanders - among them, two young boys. Hamas and most other Palestinian groups have been observing an informal ceasefire with Israel since last year, although Islamic Jihad has continued to carry out suicide bombings inside Israel.
Meanwhile, Israeli acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Tuesday that he will dramatically reduce spending on Jewish settlements in the West Bank, if his Kadima Party wins upcoming elections on March 28 .
Mr. Olmert says the "billions" now being poured into West Bank settlements will be diverted to infrastructure projects in Jerusalem as well as to rural areas in the Galilee and Negev regions.
The comments came several days after officials close to Mr. Olmert said Israel will carry out a series of unilateral withdrawals from parts of the West Bank, if Kadima wins the election, starting with 17 settlements that house about 17,000 of Israel's estimated 254,000 West Bank settlers. The officials say the settlers will be resettled in large settlement blocs near Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank that will remain part of Israel.