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Israel could target Palestinian PM-designate - Dichter

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JERUSALEM, Feb 24 (Reuters) Ismail Haniyah, chosen by the militant group Hamas to serve as Palestinian prime minister, could be a target for assassination if Hamas carries out suicide bombings, a former Israeli security chief said today.

Avi Dichter, the former head of the Shin Bet internal security service and a possible future defence minister, also told the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper that Haniyeh would be arrested if he ever fell into the hands of the Israeli army.

Haniyeh brushed aside the comments as not worthy of a response.

''We do not fear threats,'' he said. Dichter told the Israeli daily that he does not ''see a situation where Haniyeh will have immunity just because he is prime minister''.

''If there will be a terror attack in which Israel decides to respond with a preventive step, then Haniyeh would be a legitimate target because Hamas could not carry out a terror attack without Haniyeh's authorisation,'' he said.

Dichter, the architect of Israel's policy of assassinating Palestinian militants, no longer holds a policy-making position but he wields clout within the centrist Kadima party which is expected to win a March 28 general election. ''(Haniyeh) was and remains a man of terror,'' Dichter said. ''If Haniyeh turns up at a military checkpoint I believe that he would be arrested, interrogated and put on trial for being involved in terror attacks''.

Hamas, which has carried out almost 60 suicide bombings since a Palestinian uprising began in 2000, has largely abided by a year-long truce. Hamas's charter calls for the destruction of Israel. Under Dichter's leadership, Israel expanded a policy of assassinating Palestinian militants as a key strategy against an uprising that erupted in September 2000 after failed peace talks.

The killings were widely supported by Israelis. But Palestinians and world leaders condemned the killings, saying they have fuelled violence and undermined peace efforts.

REUTERS CH PM1755

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