Ceasefire? Hamas, Israel are back at war

Friday, August 22, 2003

GAZA CITY Israel and the Hamas movement have resumed their shooting war.

Israel has assassinated a member of the Hamas leadership in Gaza City and divided the region into three. For its part, Hamas launched a sustained mortar and missile attack on Israeli civilian targets in the Gaza Strip and inside the Jewish state.

In wake of the Abu Shanab assassination, Hamas said it would no longer observe the truce and called on PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to resign. Later, other insurgency groups released similar statements.

On Thursday, Israeli AH-64A Apache attack helicopters fired five missiles toward the car of Ismail Abu Shanab in Gaza City, Middle East Newsline reported. Abu Shanab, 48, and his two bodyguards were killed immediately.

It was the first Israeli assassination of a member of the Hamas leadership since the Islamic group declared a truce on June 29. Since then, Hamas has claimed responsibility for several suicide attacks on Israeli civilian targets.

"This crosses all red lines," Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin, addressing Israel, said. "You will pay the price for these crimes."

Overnight Friday, Hamas fired five Kassam-3 short-range missiles toward the Israeli city of Sderot. Nobody was injured, but a home was struck and heavily damaged. Several residents of the city were evacuated.

Hamas gunners also fired 18 mortars toward Israeli communities and military positions in the Gaza Strip. An Israeli home was damaged and several people were treated for shock. Later, Israel's military divided the Gaza Strip into three and sources said troops were awaiting an order to raid insurgency strongholds in the area.

Palestinian sources said Abu Shanab was one of the few Hamas leaders to have refused to move underground in wake of the Hamas suicide strike on an Israeli bus in Jerusalem on Tuesday. Senior Hamas operatives in the Gaza Strip dropped out of sight a day after the bombing, in which 19 people were killed and nearly 100 were injured.

Abu Shanab, who spent 10 years in an Israeli prison, was regarded as one of the four leaders of Hamas, following founder Ahmed Yassin, heir potent Abdul Aziz Rentisi and Mahmoud Azhar. Israeli military sources said Abu Shanab was responsible for reviving Hamas's military wing during the truce.

"Abu Shanab was a senior Hamas terrorist who was in close contact with Hamas leader, Sheik Ahmed Yassin and acted as deputy Hamas leader when he was abroad," an Israeli military statment said. "Abu Shanab, in his position as one of the Hamas leaders, was responsible for policy decisions and directing and approving military operations."

The Palestinian Authority condemned the Israeli assassination of Abu Shanab. PA officials said the Israeli military operation had hampered plans to crack down on Hamas.

"There is no doubt that what the Israeli troops carried out today is an ugly crime," Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas said. "We condemn such acts. This certainly will affect the whole [diplomatic] process."

But the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon raised the prospect of additional attacks on the Hamas leadership. "If the Palestinian Authority does not operate, we will go after them [Hamas] until the end," Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said.

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