'Mashaal is target for assassination'

Ramon: Israel will target Damascus-based Hamas leader; 1997 attempt failed.

An Israeli Cabinet minister said Wednesday that Hamas' Syria-based leader, Khaled Mashaal, is a target for assassination for ordering the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier in the Gaza Strip. "He is definitely in our sights ... he is a target," Justice Minister Haim Ramon told Army Radio. "Khaled Mashaal, as some who is overseeing, actually commanding the terror acts, is definitely a target." Mashaal is responsible for the attack Sunday on an Israeli army base in which two soldiers were killed and a third kidnapped, Ramon said. Israel launched a ground offensive into the southern Gaza Strip early Wednesday in an effort to force the kidnappers to free the soldier. Israel tried to kill Mashaal in a botched assassination attempt in Jordan in 1997. Two Mossad agents injected Mashaal with poison, but were caught. As Mashaal lay dying in a Jordanian hospital, King Hussein of Jordan forced Israel to provide the antidote in return for the release of the Mossad agents. Ramon called on the international community to force Syrian President Bashar Assad to expel Mashaal from Damascus, where he has operated freely for years. After the assassination attempt, Jordan's relationship with Hamas deteriorated and Mashaal was expelled to Qatar, where he lived before moving to Damascus.