TEL AVIV Ñ Israel has decided to target the Hamas leadership in an
operation that has angered the United States.
Officials said the military has been ordered to target leading members
of the Islamic insurgency groups amid a wave of attacks on Israeli civilians
and soldiers. They said the decision to assassinate Hamas leaders was meant
to compensate for the refusal of the Palestinian Authority to end
Palestinian attacks against Israel.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has ordered the military to target Hamas
leader Ahmed Yassin as well as his chief aide Abdul Aziz Rentisi, officials
said. They said such a military operation was delayed several times
because of operational and policy reasons, Middle East Newsline reported.
The United States has expressed dismay over the Israeli operation. A
White House statement issued hours after the attack was termed the harshest
criticism by President George Bush of the government of Prime Minister Ariel
"I'm concerned that the attacks will make it more difficult for the
Palestinian leadership to fight off terrorist attacks," Bush said later. "I
also don't believe that the attacks help Israeli security.
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"We will continue to strike at terror as long as the other side [PA] is
not doing this," Sharon said.
On Tuesday, two Israeli AH-64A Apache attack helicopters fired five
anti-tank missiles toward a convoy of vehicles in Gaza City that contained
Abdul Aziz Rentisi. Rentisi is the leading spokesman of Hamas and
regarded as the heir to Yassin, the founder of the Islamic movement.
"Interrogation of Hamas operatives point to Rentisi as directing Hamas
terrorist policy," a senior Israeli military source said. "His public
statements serve as instructions for terrorists to carry out attacks."
Rentisi, 56, escaped the burning vehicle with light injuries and was
later treated at a local hospital. Two
passersby and a bodyguard of Rentisi were killed and 25 others were
Hours later, Hamas gunners fired five Kassam-2 short-range missiles
toward the Israeli city of Sderot. Israeli attack helicopters retaliated by
firing missiles toward a vehicle suspected of transporting the missiles in
the Jabalya refugee camp north of Gaza City. Three people were killed in the
second Israeli air attack.
Overnight Wednesday, Hamas gunners fired at least eight anti-tank
rockets toward Israeli positions in Rafah, along the Egyptian border.
Another eight mortars were fired toward Israeli communities in the central
Gaza Strip. Later that day, Hamas resumed Kassam fire toward Sderot.
Overnight Wednesday, Israel relayed intelligence information on Rentisi
as officials said they expected support from the Bush administration in
fighting Hamas. Officials said the U.S. response to the Rentisi
assassination attempt was milder than expected and did not include any
direct communication between Bush or his aides and Sharon.
Israeli officials said the information sent to Washington detailed
Rentisi's opposition to PA Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and his efforts to
achieve a ceasefire in the war against Israel. The information also cited
Rentisi's orders to recruit Israeli Arabs for Islamic insurgency attacks.
Rentisi, a physician, is regarded as close to the Hamas leadership in
Syria, particularly Khaled Masha'al. Rentisi, one of six founders of Hamas,
was expelled by Israel in 1992 and returned from Lebanon with about 400
other Hamas members about a year later.