Israel kills Hamas fugitive

Special to World
Monday, June 23, 2003

JERUSALEM Israel has killed the leading Hamas fugitive in the West Bank.

Officials said an Israeli special operations unit killed Abdullah Qawasmeh in Hebron on late Saturday. They said Qawasmeh was killed by a counter-insurgency unit during an intensive search for the veteran Hamas operative.

Qawasmeh was said to have been the leading Hamas fugitive in the West Bank. Officials said Qawasmeh directed suicide bombing attacks of buses in Haifa and Jerusalem.

Officials said an Israeli force intended to arrest Qawasmeh. But they said the Hamas insurgent was armed with a rifle and tried to escape. At that point, officials said, Israeli security forces shot and killed him.

Palestinian sources said Qawasmeh was shot dead as he was leaving a Hebron mosque for a nearby safe house. Hamas has threatened retaliation for the killing and on early Sunday Hamas gunners fired a Kassam-2 short-range missile from the northern Gaza Strip that landed outside the Israeli city of Sderot.

In addition, seven mortars were fired toward Israeli communities in the Gaza Strip. Nobody was injured.

Earlier, Hamas claimed responsibility for the killing of a U.S. national. The American, identified, as Zvi Goldstein, was shot and killed as he was driving with his family on Friday near the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The Israeli vehicle was ambushed and several people in the car were wounded. Goldstein, who was also injured, drove about 10 kilometers before he lost control of the car and crashed in a gully.

Hamas said its attack was meant as a response to the visit by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. Powell met Israeli and Palestinian Authority leaders on Friday.

"Powell is an enemy of the Palestinians," Hamas leader Abdul Aziz Rentisi said.

But Israeli security sources said they believe the ambush was the work of a squad aligned to the ruling Fatah militia, headed by Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. The sources said Hamas might have claimed responsibility for the attack so as not to embarrass Arafat.

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