Ministers say Israel close to retaking Gaza, Hamas leaders’ days are numbered
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Hamas chief Sinwar won't 'end his days in a retirement home'

Ministers say Israel close to retaking Gaza, Hamas leaders’ days are numbered

Security cabinet members Gilad Erdan, Yoav Gallant, and Israel Katz call for targeted killings of terrorist group’s leaders

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Hamas's leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, center, chants slogans with protesters during his visit to the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, April 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Hamas's leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, center, chants slogans with protesters during his visit to the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, April 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Israel is coming close to retaking the Gaza Strip and should assassinate the leaders of terrorist group Hamas, senior Israeli ministers said Wednesday.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said that Israel is “closer than ever” to re-occupying the coastal enclave and “must move from defense to offense,” which he clarified means “targeted killings of the terrorist leaders of Hamas’ military wing.

“And it means being willing to capture and hold the Gaza Strip, until we dismantle the terrorist infrastructure,” said Erdan, a member of the security cabinet, speaking at the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference in the capital.

“Today, we’re closer than ever since the disastrous disengagement plan to being forced to recapture parts or all of the Gaza Strip,” he said, referring to Israel’s withdrawal from the coastal enclave in 2005.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan speaks at a Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference, November 21, 2018 (Sivan Farag)

“If that is the only way we can guarantee long-term quiet and security for our citizens, then that is what we will do. We won’t allow anyone to deter us,” said Erdan, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party and a leading contender for the position of foreign minister.

Erdan’s words were backed by those of Housing Minister Yoav Gallant (Kulanu), also a member of the security cabinet, who told the audience that Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar’s “days are numbered” and that the terror group’s Gaza chief should not expect to “end his days in a retirement home.”

Housing Minister Yoav Gallant speaks at the 15th annual Jerusalem Conference of the ‘Besheva’ group, on February 12, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Intelligence Minister Israel Katz took a similar line on the situation.

“Following the recent events in the south: the violence along the fence, the burning of fields and the firing of hundreds of rockets at Israeli communities, we are now closer to a no-choice war against Hamas in Gaza. We must strike hard to restore deterrence,” Katz said.

“After the last Gaza war, I called for a strategic decision to be taken regarding Israel’s policy towards Gaza — to disengage from any civilian responsibility for Gaza — no fuel, no electricity and certainly no salaries for members of Hamas,” Katz told the conference.

The intelligence minister said this would ensure full security deterrence, similar to the zero tolerance for any violation of Israeli sovereignty on the country’s northern borders.

Intelligence and Transportation Minister Israel Katz. (Flash90)

“If Sinwar, or Haniyeh were to fire a bullet or a rocket at a soldier or an Israeli citizen, they would pay with their heads, like Nasrallah in Lebanon who is today hiding in a bunker,” Katz said, referring to the Hamas leaders and Hezbollah chief.

“There is no political solution to the Gaza issue and there is no such thing as a stable arrangement with Hamas. Israel must strike at Hamas in order to restore the deterrence that has been eroded,” Katz concluded.

Since March, Palestinians have been holding the weekly “March of Return” protests on the border, which Israel has accused Gaza’s Hamas rulers of using to carry out attacks on troops and attempt to breach the security fence. Hamas, an Islamist terror group, seeks to destroy Israel.

Israel has demanded an end to the violent demonstrations along the border in any ceasefire agreement.

A Palestinian protester hurls stones during a protest at Gaza Strip’s border with Israel, east of Gaza City, on September 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Last Friday, nearly 10,000 Palestinians participated in riots and demonstrations near the border. Most people stayed away from the border fence, although some burned tires and threw rocks and explosives at soldiers who responded with tear gas and occasional live fire.

One Palestinian was reportedly killed and 14 others were brought to hospitals with injuries.

The clashes come days after Israel engaged in the largest battle with Hamas and Palestinian terror groups in Gaza since the 2014 war.

Some 500 rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israel over the course of last Monday and Tuesday, according to the Israel Defense Forces — more than twice the rate at which they were launched during the 2014 conflict.

Officials assess the damage to a house after it was hit by a rocket fired by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip, in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, Israel, November 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted over 100 of them. Most of the rest landed in open fields, but dozens landed inside Israeli cities and towns, killing one person, injuring dozens and causing significant property damage.

In response, the Israeli military said it targeted approximately 160 sites in the Gaza Strip connected to the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups, including four facilities that the army designated as “key strategic assets.”

The fighting ended on Tuesday after a Hamas-announced ceasefire took effect, though this was not officially confirmed by Israel.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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