Israeli leader squeezes Hamas

Israel's leader yesterday declared that the Jewish state will cut all ties with the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, brand it a ''hostile" power, and rule out negotiations with authority president Mahmoud Abbas as long as Hamas refuses to renounce violence and recognize Israel.

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that next week he would ask his Cabinet to approve the measures that his top security advisers recommended yesterday, capping a weekend of escalating tensions.

Israeli air and artillery strikes have killed at least 15 Palestinians since Friday as they targeted parts of the Gaza Strip, including some populated areas, that military officials said were used to launch rockets at Israel. The military said that rocket launches have increased in recent weeks from the territory that Israeli troops left last August, and that a longer-range Katyusha rocket was fired for the first time on March 26.

''Israel will not hold ties with the Palestinian Authority, which is a hostile authority," Olmert said in a statement.

He ruled out dealing with Abbas, a veteran of the Fatah party that lost to Hamas in January elections. Some Israeli politicians had favored talks with Abbas as a way to continue the peace process without dealing with Hamas, an Islamist group that vows to destroy Israel and embraces suicide bombings as a way to end Israeli occupation of lands captured in 1967.

''The Palestinian Authority is one authority and does not have two heads," Olmert said, but added that there would be no ''personal disavowal" of Abbas.

The hard-line Israeli policy was unveiled as Palestinian officials said they did not know when they would be able to meet payroll for more than 140,000 employees of the Palestinian Authority. The United States and European Union last week officially cut off tens of millions of dollars of aid, because they consider Hamas a terrorist organization.

Shortly after the Hamas victory, Israel stopped transferring about $55 million in tax revenues that it collects each month on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, sparking a financial crisis. Israel has also suspended most of its dealings with Palestinian officials.

But the new steps Olmert's Cabinet is expected to approve next Sunday would codify a tough Israeli stance on Hamas as Olmert tries to form a new coalition government dedicated to setting Israel's final borders within the next four years.

Olmert led the newly founded Kadima Party to victory in Israeli elections last month on a platform that promised to pull out of most of the West Bank while keeping large Jewish settlement blocks. He vowed to act even in the absence of talks with the Palestinians, an approach that Kadima calls pragmatic but that Palestinians fear heralds a new era of unilateral moves, reports the AP.

I.L.