JERUSALEM: A senior minister on Sunday warned that Israel would "liquidate" the Islamist Hamas-run government in Gaza following deadly weekend clashes that killed two Israeli soldiers.
"Sooner or later we will liquidate the military regime of the pro-Iranian Hamas which controls the Gaza Strip," Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, from the governing rightwing Likud party, told public radio.
"I am not setting a timetable, but we will not tolerate this regime continuing to strengthen itself militarily and providing itself with an arsenal of rockets that threaten our territory," he added.
An Israeli officer and soldier were killed over the weekend in the deadliest clashes since Israel’s 22-day offensive in Gaza launched in December 2008.
That war killed some 1,400 Palestinians and flattened entire neighborhoods in Gaza, leaving thousands of people homeless. Thirteen Israelis were killed during the fighting.
When asked whether Israel may launch a new invasion of the territory, Steinitz replied: "We have no choice."
The Islamist Hamas movement — which is pledged to Israel’s destruction and blacklisted as a terrorist organization by the West — seized power in Gaza in June 2007 after routing forces loyal to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.
The 2008-2009 war largely succeeded in its aim of halting years of near-daily rocket attacks on southern Israel, but recently there has been a rise in attacks, and a Thai laborer was killed earlier this month.