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Israel: Hits on Hamas leaders an option to stop violence

Story Highlights

• Israeli official says hit on Palestinian PM possible as rocket attacks continue
• IDF reports that more than 160 rockets have landed in Israel in the past week
• "No lever that you can pull" to end violence, Israeli official is quoted as saying
• Palestinians accuse Israel of taking advantage of infighting to stage airstrikes
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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- As it ponders how to stop Hamas militants from launching rockets into Israel, the Jewish state is keeping all of its options open -- including assassination attempts on Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, a top Israeli defense official said Tuesday.

Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh's remarks came a day after Israel Defense Forces reported that more than 160 Qassam rockets -- trademarks of Hamas attacks -- have landed in Israel during the past week, causing at least one death.

The comments also came as Israel responded to the barrage of rockets with an airstrike on an outpost in northern Gaza that Palestinian security sources say belonged to the Hamas executive force. No casualties were reported in the Jabalya strike.

In a later strike, an Israeli helicopter fired into an open field that the IDF said was used for launching rockets into Israel. Palestinian hospital officials reported four injuries in the attack.

In his Tuesday interview with Israeli Radio, Sneh said no Hamas members are exempt from possible Israeli retaliation. (Watch Haniyeh promise attacks will continue until "victory or martyrdom" Video)

"There is no one in the leading, commanding circle of Hamas who has immunity," Sneh said.

According to the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, Sneh further accused Hamas of giving "operational approval" for attacks on Israel.

"When someone preaches that the state of Israel should be destroyed, he is not in the political echelon -- he is a terrorist in a suit," Haaretz quoted Sneh as saying.

On Monday, Israeli Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said that Israel may target not only Haniya, but also exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, who now lives in Damascus, Syria, The Jerusalem Post reported.

"Khaled Meshaal is not immune, and he is well aware of this," Dichter said, according to the newspaper. Dichter added that the Israeli Cabinet decided Sunday that the IDF would resume targeting politicians and military commanders.

Dichter, the former head of the Israeli internal security apparatus, Shin Bet, conceded, however, that targeted assassinations alone would not deter militants from launching attacks on Israel

"There is no lever that you can pull -- targeted killings or whatever else -- that simply solves the problem," he said, according to the Post. "The fight against terror consists of various tactics and the creation of deterrence. This is what will reduce and ultimately stop Qassams and terror attacks." (Watch a visit to a workshop where deadly rockets are made Video)

In a blog entry for the Post, Sneh wrote that Israel should not launch any large-scale ground operations in Gaza. Such a decision, he wrote, would be devoid of "wisdom and responsibility."

"We need to strike Hamas' military installations since it is perpetrating the rocket attacks," he wrote, "the rocket manufacturers, launch cells and particularly the command echelon of the radical, murderous and dangerous movement. We have successfully embarked on this campaign in the last two days."

On Monday, an Israeli airstrike hit a car carrying Islamic Jihad militants in northern Gaza, killing four people, Palestinian security sources said. The IDF said the militants were involved in the manufacturing of Qassam rockets.

The attack came the day after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised to "intensify our response" if efforts on the diplomatic front fizzled.

Most of the Qassam attacks on Israel have landed in and around Sderot, a town of about 23,000 residents near the Gaza border. An Israeli woman was killed Monday when a rocket slammed into the car in which she was traveling in Sderot. (Watch an Israeli boy explain how the explosions in Sderot serve as his alarm clock Video)

In his blog entry, Sneh said the rocket attacks were an attempt by Hamas to deflect the anger of Gazans, who he said have "become fed up with the anarchy and violence" wrought by the infighting between Hamas and the Western-backed Fatah.

The two factions have adhered to a cease-fire -- their fifth attempt at peace in a week -- since Saturday afternoon.

Analysts say the attacks may be part of a Hamas attempt to lure Israel into a Gaza ground war, thereby uniting Hamas and Fatah.

Palestinians have accused Israel of taking advantage of the infighting to stage airstrikes.


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Palestinians inspect an outpost belonging to the Hamas executive force after an Israeli airstrike turned the building to rubble Tuesday.

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