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Old 04-17-04   #1
Lawson
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Hamas Leader Killed in Israeli Strike

http://apnews.myway.com/article/20040417/D820P87G0.html



GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) - An Israeli missile strike killed Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi as he rode in his car Saturday evening, hospital officials said. Rantisi's son Mohammed and a bodyguard were also killed in the attack.

The militant Hamas leader was one of Israel's top targets after it assassinated Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin in an airstrike last month.

Rantisi's car was hit with missiles Saturday evening on the road outside his home, leaving only the burned, destroyed vehicle. After the explosion, Israeli helicopters were heard in the area.

Rantisi was taken to the hospital in critical condition, his body pocked with bloody wounds and blood streaming from his head and neck. He was taken to emergency surgery but died five minutes after arriving at the hospital.


Palestinian officials lashed the Israeli strike.

"We condemn in strongest possible terms this Israeli crime of assassinating Dr. Rantisi. This is state terror, and the Israeli government is fully responsible for the consequences of this action," Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said.

Witnesses said there were three people in the car at the time of the explosion. Five pedestrians were also wounded, hospital officials said.

The dead included Akram Nassar, 35, Rantisi's personal bodyguard and his son Mohammed, 27, hospital officials said. Rantisi's wife was in the car, but her condition and location was not known, hospital sources and Hamas said.

About 2,000 angry Palestinians marched through the streets carrying pieces of Rantisi's car shouting, "revenge, revenge."

Shooting was heard in the center of Gaza City and people were chanting Rantisi's name.

"This blood will not be wasted," said Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader at the hospital. "We are not going to give up."

Rantisi is Hamas' top leader in Gaza and one of the most hard-line members of the militant movement who rejects all compromise with Israel and calls for the destruction of the Jewish state.

Israel had previously tried to kill Rantisi June 10 when three Apache helicopters fired at least seven missiles toward Rantisi's car in a crowded Gaza thoroughfare, reducing his vehicle to a scorched heap of metal. Rantisi escaped with a wound to the right leg. Two Palestinian bystanders were killed.

In a retaliatory attack the next day, 16 Israelis were killed in a Hamas suicide bombing in Jerusalem.

Israeli officials justified the attack as part of the ongoing battle against militants who have killed more than 900 Israelis in attacks over the past 3 1/2 years of violence.

"We have to continue this war, every time and every place. And this story with Rantisi shows how the army can get everywhere. We have to continue, we have no other choice," Cabinet Minister Gideon Ezra told Israel Radio.

Israel has stepped up strikes on Hamas in advance of a proposed unilateral pullout from Gaza. Israeli officials have said they hope a string of military successes to show that the militant group was not driving it out of the coastal strip.

The explosion occurred Saturday night a block from Rantisi's house in the Sheik Radwan neighborhood of Gaza City, about 100 yards from where Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin was buried after Israel assassinated him last month.

Since then, Israel has vowed to kill the entire leadership of the Islamic militant organization.

Israeli sources said Saturday they struck at Rantisi at the first available opportunity and said he was planning a large attack on Israel to solidify his leadership of Hamas and to retaliate for Yassin's killing.

Israel has been on high alert for a suicide bombing since Yassin's March 22 killing. After Rantisi was killed, Israeli prisons holding Palestinian prisoners went on high-alert, fearing possible riots.

During the mourning period for Yassin, Rantisi was defiant about Israel's threats against him.

"We will all die one day. Nothing will change. If by Apache or by cardiac arrest, I prefer Apache," he said.


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