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(photo credit: Ori Porat)
Israel is considering expanding its Tuesday decision to revoke the Jerusalem residency of three Hamas Palestinian Legislative Council members and a Palestinian Authority cabinet minister to include other known Hamas members or even PA workers living in the city, a senior government official said Wednesday night.
Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided to take steps to revoke the residency of the four high-profile Hamas members at consultations he held with Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra and top security officials to discuss reactions to Monday's suicide bombing in Tel Aviv.
The decision prompted a visit by Arab MKs to the Hamas members, and a threat to take the issue to the High Court of Justice. One senior Israeli official noted the irony that Hamas officials, who do not recognize Israel, were threatening to petition an Israeli court.
In addition to this decision, it was also decided at Tuesday's consultations to step up the information campaign against Hamas, highlighting the organization's justification of the bombing.
While no decision was made for a sweeping military offensive as a result of the attack, the worst in some 20 months, government officials said the policy of targeted assassinations would continue and road blocks and patrols along the Green Line would be increased to crack down on people illegally smuggling Palestinian workers across the Green Line.
Livni, who proposed revoking the residency of the Hamas legislators, also persuaded the forum not to adopt the defense establishment's recommendation to declare the PA an "enemy entity," but rather to continue with its characterization as a "hostile entity."
"We don't want to disqualify the entire PA and completely close the door on it," one senior official said. "There are international legal implications in such a declaration, including closing off the border crossings, that we don't want to do yet."
He said the decision to revoke Jerusalem residency, which means that those affected would no longer be able to receive National Insurance Institute payments and would be barred from entering the capital, was taken to send a signal to Hamas leaders.
"They can't have it both ways," he said. "If they are part of a government that doesn't renounce terrorism, recognize Israel or accept previous agreements, there will be a price to pay."
He acknowledged that this one measure would't bring Hamas to its knees, but said "it could make life for them more difficult, and it will show them that there are personal consequences for their actions."
At Tuesday's meeting, Olmert was reported to have said, "Israel sees the Palestinian government as responsible for the terrorist action. The whole world also knows this. We see Hamas as responsible, and no one can evade that responsibility. The Hamas government took on the responsibility because of the reactions it issued after the attack - and the implications of this are clear."
Although Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack and Hamas was not directly involved, Hamas heads justified it as a legitimate response to Israeli strikes.
Meanwhile, senior diplomatic officials praised Olmert's military restraint, saying that this move would reap dividends internationally and help in the campaign to isolate Hamas. Had a major offensive launched been, one official said, it would have harmed the effort to delegitimize the Hamas government and keep it in international isolation.
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