Hamas Says It Will Target
Israeli Leadership

By Joseph Logan

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The militant Palestinian Islamist group Hamas said on Friday that it will target Israeli leaders in response to the Jewish state's tactic of killing senior Palestinian militants behind attacks on Israelis.

Usama Hamdan, who heads Hamas in Lebanon, said Israel's killing in recent weeks of two senior Hamas figures -- one in an air strike that left 14 others dead -- meant Hamas's military actions should expand beyond suicide bombings in public places.

"From here on out, targeting a leader, minister, or the head of the government of the Zionist entity will be treatment in kind, particularly since they are giving the orders (to kill Palestinians)," he told Reuters.

"The Palestinian response...will extend to the killers and it will extend to those who consent to being ruled by the killers."

Hamdan was voicing a harder line taken by Hamas recently against individual Israeli leaders.

A more senior Hamas figure said on Wednesday that the group, which has killed dozens of Israelis in suicide bombings during the Palestinian uprising, should target Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to avenge a Hamas leader shot by an Israeli sniper in Gaza.

Hamas has carried out two attacks that have killed at least 16 people since Israel killed Hamas military commander Salah Shehada last month in an air strike on his home in a crowded Gaza City neighborhood.

Hamdan's comments came as Palestinian cabinet members met U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in Washington for talks on Palestinian reforms Washington wants to focus on revamping security forces to take on militant groups like Hamas.

The meeting comes after a failed round of Israeli-Palestinian talks that proposed easing Israel's military grip on the West Bank and Gaza if the Palestinian Authority (PA) cracks down on militant groups.

Hamdan said Israel hoped to use those talks to get the assistance of President Yasser Arafat's PA in targeting militants, with the goal of igniting a Palestinian civil war.

"Sharon's proposal...stipulates the arrest of certain people and house arrest. It stipulates a Palestinian civil war and internal confrontation," he said.

"If the PA wants to confront the resistance it must confront the Palestinian people," Hamdan said.

At least 1,492 Palestinians and 585 Israelis have been killed since Israeli-Palestinian violence erupted in 2000 after peace talks ground to a halt.


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