Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his security cabinet on Monday to discuss possible punitive steps against Hamas which Israel has blamed for the kidnapping of three teenagers, media reports said.
“We have one goal: to find these three boys [missing Israeli settlers] and bring them home and damage Hamas as much as possible,” Israeli army chief Benny Gantz was quoted as saying by army spokesman Peter Lerner.
Gantz had made the comments at a recent meeting with Israeli army generals in the central West Bank.
Israel is in the throes of a massive manhunt in the West Bank to find the three youths. On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Hamas of kidnapping the trio – an accusation the Gaza-based faction has dismissed as baseless.
Reports published by the Walla news website and Haaretz online said the security cabinet was to look into the possibility of banishing Hamas members from the West Bank to Gaza as a way of both punishing it and exerting pressure on the movement.
“One of the steps being considered is the possibility of expelling senior Hamas members from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip as well as destroying their homes,” Walla said, quoting unnamed senior sources.
A senior official quoted by Haaretz said the justice ministry had on Sunday looked into the legalities of expelling Hamas members to Gaza and said the meeting was attended by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and other ministry officials.
The discussion was to “explore whether such steps were in line with international law and would stand up to challenges in the High Court,” Haaretz said, indicating that no decision had yet been taken.
As well as deportation to Gaza and demolishing the homes of senior Hamas members, Israel was also weighing sanctions against Hamas prisoners in Israel jails, it said.
Netanyahu’s office refused to comment on the reports.
Over the last two days, Israeli security forces have detained more than 150 Palestinians – including leaders of Hamas, lawmakers and former government ministers – in raids carried out throughout the West Bank.
(Middle East Eye – www.middleeasteye.net)