Olmert: Hamas does not frighten Israel

Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday that Israel can deal with Hamas threats if it has to, disputing statements by other Israelis that the violent Islamic group that is taking power after winning Palestinian elections is a strategic threat to the Jewish state.

Speaking to soldiers and security officials at a gathering in Tel Aviv, Olmert said, "Hamas doesn't frighten us." He also said Israel would not give up on a chance for peace with the Palestinians, though Olmert is determined not to deal with Hamas.

"If there is a need, we can handle Hamas," Olmert said. In contrast, hard-line Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Shin Bet security chief Yuval Diskin have warned that the Islamic group, responsible for dozens of suicide bombings that have killed hundreds of Israelis, is an existential threat. Hamas is in the process of forming a government after sweeping last month's election.

Olmert said Israel must separate from the Palestinian people, indicating that Israel might withdraw unilaterally from populated parts of the West Bank if no agreement is possible.

"We want to separate from the Palestinians in order to live in state with a clear Jewish majority, and we don't have any other alternative," he said.

Olmert also disagreed with his foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, who said that moderate Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has been made irrelevant by the Hamas election victory. Olmert said he hoped Abbas would remain in office, adding, "I'm not disputing what Tzipi Livni said, but I believe that what she said was improper", reports AP.


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