- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2008

TEL AVIV — Israel threatened a fresh invasion of the Gaza Strip yesterday to stop daily barrages of rockets — a threat that drove Hamas leaders into hiding in fear of being targeted for assassination by Israeli forces.

“I believe the combination of [Israeli] steps against Hamas in Gaza will bring an end to the Hamas regime in Gaza,” said Vice Prime Minister Haim Ramon.

It might take a few months, but “the Hamas regime in Gaza will not last,” he told reporters in Jerusalem.

An Israeli incursion into Gaza undoubtedly would complicate the U.S. initiative for an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty by the end of the year.

To many Israelis, however, the daily rocket attacks have become unbearable, making prospects of a peace agreement equally remote.

Protesters from Sderot, the Israeli city near Gaza targeted by the rockets, closed Tel Aviv’s main highway and a road intersection yesterday to demand action from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

On Sunday in Jerusalem, protesters tried to force their way through police barricades at the prime minister’s office.

“We’re fed up,” said Avner Haim, a Sderot taxi driver, as he marched to Israel’s military headquarters yesterday amid chants of “Olmert, resign.”

“We’re eating 50 Qassams a day and no one is waking up,” he said, referring to the Palestinian rockets. A weekend rocket salvo critically injured two brothers in Sderot.

Leaders from Hamas, the Islamic militant group that seized control of Gaza last summer, reportedly have gone underground for fear of Israeli assassination.

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh hasn’t been seen in public in several days, according to the Associated Press, and Israel’s top-selling daily Yediot Ahronot reported that Hamas’ military chief of staff has gone into hiding.

An Israeli aircraft fired a missile at the car of Hamas militants in the southern Gaza Strip, reportedly injuring two bystanders, but that isn’t likely to satisfy the growing chorus of proponents in Israel of a broad ground offensive in Gaza.

“I think our strategy isn’t clear enough,” Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz said in an interview with Israel Radio.

Mr. Mofaz, a former defense minister, said Israel should divide Gaza into several parts to clamp down on the movement of militants. A reoccupation of the entire coastal strip of 1.4 million, however, is the least attractive option, he said.

“The ability is there,” he said. “The problem is the day after.”

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