Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak indicated Israel might try to overthrow the Hamas regime in Gaza, one day after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ruled out a large-scale invasion of Gaza.
Barak's remarks at a closed parliamentary committee session on Monday were the first by an Israeli leader about removing Hamas from power in Gaza, though Israel has said repeatedly it cannot negotiate a peace deal with the Palestinians as long as the violent Islamists are in control there.
Barak also ordered plans for a large ground invasion of Gaza.
However, he said troops would not move soon, essentially leaving his threats as verbal pressure on Hamas.
Barak told parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Israel's long-term plan was to weaken Hamas and "under certain circumstances even take down Hamas," a meeting participant said.
"I don't see the Palestinians giving Gaza back to Fatah," the party of moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Barak said. "Outside developments might bring this about," the participant quoted Barak as saying.
He spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed.
Meanwhile, Israel is planning to build 1,100 new apartments for Israelis in east Jerusalem, a Cabinet minister said yesterday, angering Palestinians who want the area as the capital of their future state and further troubling peace talks.
Housing Minister Zeev Boim told Israel Radio that plans were under way to build 370 apartments in Har Homa and an additional 750 in Pisgat Zeev, two Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem.