Hamas appoints successor to Rantisi

Special to World
Monday, April 19, 2004

GAZA CITY Hamas has quietly appointed Mahmoud A-Zahar to head the movement in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas sources said Mahmoud A-Zahar, 53, was selected as the organization's new head in the Gaza Strip. A-Zahar succeeds Abdul Aziz Rantisi, who was assassinated in an Israeli missile strike on Saturday.

The appointment was decided by Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Masha'al, the sources said. Masha'al, based in Damascus, became the undisputed leader of Hamas over the past month in wake of the Israeli assassination of Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin.

Hamas, on orders from Masha'al, did not announce the appointment of A-Zahar. The sources said the appointment was kept secret to avoid another Israeli assassination attempt.

Like Rantisi, A-Zahar has been a physician and served as the personal doctor of Yassin. For the last month, A-Zaharin served as Rantisi's deputy.

A-Zahar, who survived an Israeli assassination attempt in September 2003, was described as being different from Rantisi. A-Zahar was termed a moderate in Hamas who has raised the prospect of a 10-year ceasefire with Israel.

Hamas sources said A-Zahar was one of the few political leaders left in the movement. Most of the political leadership, with access to funding abroad, was killed by Israel over the last two years. They said military leader Mohammed Deif has been recruited into the political leadership to groom him to take over the organization.

Hamas has pledged to avenge the Israeli assassination of Rantisi.

Overnight Monday, Hamas gunners fired eight Kassam-class short-range missiles and Al Bana anti-tank missiles toward Israeli targets in the Gaza Strip and inside Israel. At least one Israeli was injured.

"Hamas might have a crisis on its hands after losing its leaders," Hamas spokesman Ismail Haniyeh, expected to become A-Zahar's deputy, said. "But it will not be defeated."

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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