Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made clear this week that despite Israeli-Palestinian security meetings, the battle against Hamas and other Islamic militant groups planning suicide attacks will not stop. Israel has hunted down and killed several Hamas members from helicopters after the recent bus bombing that killed 17 and wounded 70. Hamas in turn has promised more suicide attacks.
While the fighting between Hamas and Israel is nothing new, the threats have escalated and both sides, at least vocally, are preparing for a final conflict. According to Israeli army radio, Israel is preparing to launch a final campaign to wipe out Hamas by "whatever means necessary." From its infrastructure to its top spiritual and political leaders, Hamas is an Israeli target, including Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin. Israeli Internal Security Minister Tzachi Hanegbi warned that, "No Hamas leader is safe." Hamas has long claimed that its political leaders do not control the actions of its military wing and for the most part Israel has left them alone - until now. The refusal of the Hamas leadership to go along with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' peace talks and to stop attacks on Israelis has become the last straw. According to Israeli officials, it is now clear that these leaders should become legitimate targets because they set policy and order attacks on Israelis. Israeli officials believe the leaders of Hamas will not stop until they are dealt with decisively.
In response to the Israeli attacks, Hamas is threatening full scale retaliation and has warned all foreigners to leave the Jewish state for their own safety. This may be an indication that Hamas is looking to target locations inside central Israel and not just the territories it considers "occupied." Hamas has already warned that the recent bus blast was just the beginning of a series of attacks it plans to unleash on Israel, warning that it "plans to tear Israel to pieces." One spokesman for Hamas even warned that, "Your children and your women, everyone is a target now," while another warned that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was a "wanted" man and vowed that he would be killed.
The United States also seems to be preparing to enter the conflict with Hamas. President Bush called for Hamas to be dealt with harshly and White House spokesman Ari Fleischer called Hamas "an enemy to peace." Sen. Richard Lugar, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, suggested that US troops could be involved in efforts to stop attacks by Hamas.
The Hamas charter, adopted in 1988, lays out the organization's belief that all of "Palestine" belongs to the Muslims and can never be relinquished.