Hamas on Tuesday denied reports that it had threatened to kill kidnapped Cpl. Gilad Schalit if the IDF invades the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli-Arab weekly Panorama quoted Abu Obaidah, a spokesman for Izzadin Kassam (Hamas's military wing), warning that Schalit would be killed in the event of a military offensive in the Gaza Strip.
But Abu Obaidah denied that Hamas had any intention of killing Schalit.
"The invasion of the Gaza Strip [by the IDF] will endanger the lives of many Palestinians, including the Israeli soldier," he said. "Schalit was captured to trade him for Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. We are ready to hold him for months and years to achieve our goal."
Abu Obaidah warned Israel against launching a military operation to stop the Kassam rocket attacks, saying it would pay dearly for such an offensive.
The possibility that Hamas would execute Schalit if the IDF invades the Gaza Strip was a consideration for the defense establishment, but ultimately will not prevent the decision to launch an operation, senior defense and diplomatic officials said Tuesday.
Government officials said the possibility Hamas would execute Schalit was being taken into consideration.
"This is one of the aspects that are taken into consideration when considering whether to go into Gaza," the official said. "But that doesn't mean you don't do it if you feel that you need to."
While a decision has not been made on a widespread operation in Gaza, senior defense officials said Tuesday that if several Israelis were killed in a Kassam rocket attack, that would serve as a catalyst for such an operation.
IDF Southern Command has completed the preparations for an operation that would include the creation of a buffer zone along the Gaza perimeter fence. The belief is that a buffer zone could push back Kassam cells and take the rockets out of range of Ashkelon and Sderot.
The IDF has also asked to renew targeted killings in the Gaza Strip of high-ranking terrorists and Palestinians involved in the production and firing of Kassam rockets.
Meanwhile, Abu Mujahed, a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, one of the groups believed to be holding Schalit, said he did not expect a prisoner exchange deal to take place with the present Israeli government.
"This government is too weak," he said. "It is unable to take significant decisions."
Mujahed said Schalit's captors had no problem holding on to him for as long as possible.
"We are capable of holding him for a lengthy period until all our just demands are met," he said.
Asked to comment on Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's recent statement to the effect that Schalit may be released within two or three weeks, Abu Mujahed said: "We don't know on what basis the president said what he said. We repeat that the soldier will never be released until all our demands are met."
In another development, a radical Islamic group affiliated with al-Qaida on Tuesday threatened to attack summer camps in the Gaza Strip if boys and girls were allowed to attend them together.
The group, which claimed responsibility for an attack earlier this week on a UN-run school in Rafah, said its members would destroy any coed summer camp run by UNRWA in the Gaza Strip.
Preachers in a number of mosques called on their followers to launch attacks on any coed summer camp. They claimed that the camps were part of an Israeli-American "conspiracy" to corrupt Palestinian society.
Yaakov Katz and Herb Keinon contributed to this report.