An Israeli missile struck the Palestinian prime minister’s office in Gaza late Saturday night, marking a new escalation in the crisis over the capture of an Israeli soldier by Palestinian resistance fighters, security sources and witnesses said.
The witnesses said at least one missile struck the office of Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyya shortly before 2:00 am Sunday, sparking a blaze that was swiftly doused by a team of Palestinian firefighters, the sources told Agence France Presse.
The strike hit Haniyya’s personal office but the prime minister was not believed to be in the council of ministers at the time. There were no immediate reports of any casualties in the strike.
Almost simultaneously, another missile struck a building housing a new security service created by the Hamas government, as well as the office of a lawmaker from the Islamist movement, witnesses said.
In the second strike, one resistance fighter with the Qassam Brigades was killed and another wounded, medical sources said.
Israel has repeatedly threatened to target Haniyya following the capture on June 25 of an Israeli soldier by three Palestinian militant groups, including the armed wing of Hamas, the ruling Palestinian party.
A senior official from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ office had warned Saturday that Haniyya’s life could be on the line if a solution were not reached soon allowing the release of the 19-year-old Israeli corporal, Gilad Shalit.
"His life is at risk if the Palestinian groups do not free the Israeli soldier," a high-ranking official had told Agence France Presse on condition of anonymity.
"There are Israeli threats against Ismail Haniya through the media," the official said, adding that Abbas had not received any direct messages from the Israeli government.
Without explicitly singling out Haniya, Israeli officials have warned that those involved in militant acts against the Jewish state are not immune from possible attack.
Hamas "is not a government, it is an organization of killers with a leader in Damascus," Israeli Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said Thursday, in reference to Hamas political supremo Khaled Meshaal, who lives in Syria.
"We make no distinction between terrorists. No one involved in terrorism has any immunity," he said when asked about any possible Israeli assassination of the Gaza-based Hamas prime minister. Although Israeli forces have carried out over 800 extrajudicial assassinations in the last five years, such killings are deemed to be illegal under international law. Israeli and international human rights groups have routinely condemned the practice, but Israeli forces continue to target Palestinians they deem worthy of execution and carrying out the executions without trial. Civilians are often injured and killed in the assassinations (usually carried out by dropping a missile on the targeted person’s car).
Israeli forces this week arrested 87 Hamas members including ministers and lawmakers and threatened to take further action if Shalit were not released.
Israel has launched a vast military operation against the Gaza Strip in retaliation for the abduction of the soldier during a Palestinian attack on the Israel-Gaza border.
Around two weeks before the soldier was snatched, a leading member of Israel’s governing Kadima party said Haniyya could become a target of the Israeli military if he approves attacks by Palestinian militants.
"If Israel discovers that any Hamas official has given the green light to attacks, then there will be no one who enjoys immunity," Tzahi Hanegbi said in early June when asked if Haniya could be a possible target.
Hanegbi, chairman of parliament’s foreign affairs and defense committee, said that a "confrontation with Hamas had become unavoidable" following the governing Hamas Party’s decision to resume homemade-rocket attacks after seven members of the Ghalia family were killed by Israeli artillery fire on June 9(although the Israeli military initially denied their responsibility, they later were forced to retract their initial denial after the source of the shelling was proven by outside investigation).
Hamas had previously adhered to a truce with Israel for 18 months, while Israeli forces violated the truce over 400 times, according to human rights groups.