The entire Palestinian Cabinet could be targeted for assassination after the Hamas-led government appointed a wanted militant as head of a new Palestinian security force, an Israeli politician and former intelligence chief said today.
The new Palestinian commander, Jamal Abu Samhadana, also remains a legitimate target, said Danny Yatom, a retired head of the Mossad spy agency.
“I understand that our sights are also trained on Hamas ministers, not only on the police chief,” Yatom told Israel Radio.
“Nobody who deals with terror can have immunity by any means, even if he holds a ministerial portfolio in the Hamas government.”
Yatom did not name any particular minister as a potential target.
Hamas yesterday said it would form a security force commanded by Samhadana, who heads a group responsible for rocket attacks on Israel and suspected in a deadly attack on an American convoy.
The appointment was the latest step in an escalating power struggle between Hamas and the moderate Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, for control over Palestinian security forces.
The United States and Israel quickly denounced the plan.
Samhadana’s Popular Resistance Committees has launched dozens of home-made rockets at Israel in recent weeks. It also is suspected of involvement in the October 2003 bombing in Gaza of a US Embassy convoy, which killed three American security guards, and has bombed Israeli tanks.
Hamas has largely observed a ceasefire with Israel since February 2005. But since being sworn into office last month, the Hamas leadership has said attacks carried out by other groups, including a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv this week, are justified.
Israel says it holds Hamas responsible for all the violence, though defence officials are still weighing whether to begin attacking Hamas targets directly.
“If someone needed proof about the connection between the Hamas rule and Palestinian terror, this appointment is the ultimate proof,” said Israeli Foreign Ministry official Gideon Meir.
US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the formation of the new Palestinian police force showed “the true nature and the true tactics of this particular Hamas-led government”.
The US will still hold the Palestinian Authority responsible for stopping attacks, McCormack said.
Samhadana was named director general of the Interior Ministry in a decree by Interior Minister Said Siyam. He also was given the rank of colonel.
Khaled Abu Hilal, an Interior Ministry spokesman, said Samhadana would form a new security branch – answerable only to Siyam – to bring law and order to the Palestinian streets.
“This force is going to include the elite of our sons from the freedom fighters and the holy warriors and the best men we have,” he said. “It’s going to include members of all the resistance branches.”
Abu Hilal said officials have begun recruiting for the new force but could not offer details of its size or structure.
A former security officer who was dismissed for refusing to report for duty during the uprising against Israel, Samhadana is high on Israel’s wanted list and has been a target of at least one attempted Israeli assassination.
His appointment came amid an rising tensions between Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah movement, which was defeated by the Islamic militant group in January legislative elections.
Soon after the Hamas-led Cabinet was sworn in last month, Abbas appointed a long-time ally to head three security services that were supposed to fall under Hamas command. Abbas controls several other security services directly.
Samhadana’s appointment is likely to add to Hamas’ international isolation. Labelled a terrorist group, Israel, the US and the European Union have cut off much of the funding that has kept the Palestinian Authority afloat.