Netanyahu Pledges to Topple Hamas if Elected Prime Minister

Likud chairman also tells Russian-speaking audience that he will not offer Shas education portfolio.

Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday pledged to topple the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip if elected prime minister in the February elections.

Speaking to a group of Russian speakers, Netanyahu said that under his leadership, Israel would move from a policy of absorbing blows to a policy of being on the offensive.

He said that apart from stopping the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, such a policy would also restore Israel's "national honor."

He also reiterated previous remarks that Israel would hold on to the Golan Heights.

"It should be clear to the Syrians and to the world, the Golan Heights will stay in our hands," Netanyahu said.

In response to reports that leaders of the Meretz party are seeking to create a "blocking majority" against a rightist government, Netanyahu emphasized the importance of turning Likud into the biggest party so that it could assemble a government. He said the rightist camp would be his first option in the search for coalition partners, but that he would also turn to other parties in order to create a wider coalition.

Netanyahu added that under no circumstances would he offer Shas the education ministry. He said the portfolio would remain the responsibility of Likud, and claimed he has not promised Shas anything that is likely to strike at the Russian-speaking community.

Likud MK Yuli Edelstein said the party aims to win seven or eight seats from Russian speakers alone at the February 10 general election, more than it has achieved in the past.

Kadima Chairwoman Tzip Livni made similar comments Monday to Netanyahu's regarding Hamas. After a meeting with the party's security forum, she said the forum had set the toppling of Hamas from its rule in the coastal territory as a central goal for the long term. Until that target is reached, Israel will work to regain its power of deterrence and to defend its citizens, she said.