Terrorists in Gaza who had links to the 2006 abduction of IDF soldier Gilad Schalit are "dying in unfortunate accidents," Homeland Security Minister Matan Vilnai said in Jerusalem on Wednesday.

The comments appear to be the first major hint by a public official that Israel is systematically targeting Schalit's abductors.

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Speaking at a high school in the capital in honor of Jerusalem Day, Vilnai added that few Hamas members are aware of Schalit's location.

"Hamas knows that Israel will do everything to release Gilad Schalit. [Hamas Prime Minister Ismail] Haniyeh and the Hamas chief of staff don't know where Gilad is being held. A group is holding him, and it knows," he said.

"Many of them are no longer with us. [They are] unfortunate ones, all sorts of accidents [are befalling them]," Vilnai added.

"Everyone who was involved in the kidnapping won't need to worry about an old age home. They won't get there."

The minister also said that if Israel lacked "the ability to get him out, a big price must be paid, involving the release of major murderers, to retrieve him."

Last week, recently retired IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (ret.) Gabi Ashkenazi publicly stated that Israel did not know where Schalit is being kept, adding that the IDF was unable to secure his release through a rescue operation.

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