Israel threatens to assassinate Prime Minister


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

Israel warns: free soldier or PM dies

Middle East correspondent Martin Chulov
July 01, 2006

ISRAEL last night threatened to assassinate Palestinian Prime Minister Ismael 
Haniyeh if Hamas militants did not release a captured Israeli soldier unharmed.

The unprecedented warning was delivered to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas 
in a letter as Israel debated a deal offered by Hamas to free Corporal Gilad 

It came as Israeli military officials readied a second invasion force for a huge
offensive into Gaza.

Hamas's Gaza-based political leaders, including Mr Haniyeh, had already gone 
into hiding.

But last night's direct threat to kill Mr Haniyeh, a democratically elected head
of state, sharply raised the stakes.

The bid to free Corporal Shalit was brokered by Egyptian President Hosni 
Mubarak, who last night warned Hamas it faced severe consequences if it did not 
curb its "extreme stance" and described the growing conflict as a lightning rod 
for Palestinian vengeance.

Jerusalem has made no official comment, but Egyptian state media said Israel had
found the offer unacceptable. Israel has not spelt out the terms demanded by 
Hamas, but earlier this week it refused to buy into talk of a prisoner swap.

Thousands of Hamas supporters protested in Gaza City late on Thursday over the 
arrest by Israeli forces of up to 32 Hamas MPs on the West Bank that day.

A Hamas spokesman said the group would never recognise Israel, in spite of a 
deal its leaders signed this week offering implicit recognition of the Jewish 
state in return for easing an economic blockade.

Israeli fighter jets bombed 20 targets in Gaza, including the Interior Ministry,
which it said had been used by militants to stage meetings, while artillery hit 
the northern strip with 500 shells in the 24 hours until yesterday morning.

Jewish settler Eliyahu Asheri, who was murdered by militants this week, was 
buried on Thursday as leaders of the Popular Resistance Committees pledged to 
seize more hostages in the West Bank. No further word has emerged about another 
suspected Jewish hostage, Noach Moskowitz, who Israeli police said was found 
dead hours after Mr Asheri's remains were found.

Much of Gaza, including two main hospitals, was without power and running water 
as a UN aid chief warned that the 1.4 million residents of the strip were three 
days away from a humanitarian crisis.

"They are heading for the abyss unless they get electricity and fuel restored," 
said emergency relief co-ordinator Jan Egeland, who urged militants to free 
Corporal Shalit and stop firing rockets into Israel.

Residents complain that sonic booms caused by Israeli jets traumatise children 
and that shelling confines families to their homes.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has vowed the military will do all it can to 
avoid civilian deaths if a full-scale assault is launched.

Mr Olmert said the decision to invade northern Gaza had already been delayed to 
allow Mr Mubarak's negotiations to continue.

The arrested Hamas legislators have been sent to security prisons and many will 
stand trial on terrorism offences. The detentions have hurt Hamas's already 
limited ability to govern and are likely to force a regime change.

Israel claims it has intelligence about the area where Corporal Shalit is held, 
but has been unable to pinpoint the exact location. Mr Olmert said the military 
would leave the strip if he was unconditionally and safely returned.

Egypt and the neighbouring Arab states of Jordan and Lebanon fear a war between 
Israel and the Palestinians could lead to uprisings within their own borders, 
which house many Palestinian refugees.

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