washington raps israel

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    Washington raps Israel over rocket attack on Hamas leader

    Chris McGreal in Gaza City
    Wednesday June 11, 2003
    The Guardian

    Israel drew stinging criticism from Washington, accusations of terrorism from its Palestinian partner in the peace process and a vow by Hamas to respond in kind after an army helicopter tried to assassinate the Hamas political leader in Gaza.
    Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi narrowly escaped with his life as an Israeli army helicopter fired a volley of missiles at his vehicle in the heart of Gaza City. Dr Rantissi sustained shoulder and leg wounds, having abandoned his vehicle just before a missile scored a direct hit.

    His son, Ahmad, who was driving, suffered a more serious neck injury.

    One of Dr Rantissi's bodyguards was killed along with a woman in the street. More than 20 people were taken to hospital with wounds, some of them serious.

    Hours later a second Israeli helicopter strike on a car killed three Palestinians allegedly responsible for firing rudimentary rockets from Gaza into Israel. Dozens of other people were wounded.

    The spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, told the Guardian there would be a violent response. "The Israelis have sent a message," he said. "Now they have to wait for our reply. Our answer will be of the same calibre.

    "The Israelis don't want peace. They only want to humiliate the Palestinians. The Israelis want an explosion of violence. They want a military confrontation with Hamas."

    The failed assassination - the most significant since the Israelis used a one-tonne bomb to kill the leader of Hamas's military wing, Salah Shehada, a year ago - provoked anger in Gaza and unusual condemnation beyond because of the timing and the target.

    Palestinian officials said the assassination attempt was designed to undermine the road map plan, launched by President George Bush at last week's Middle East summit. It was a further blow to the prospect of persuading Hamas to join a ceasefire just a day before the head of Egypt's intelligence service was expected to travel to Israel to help broker such a deal.

    President Bush later said he would strive to keep the peace process moving forward, but admitted that the assassination bid would complicate matters. "I'm concerned that the attacks will make it more difficult for Palestinian leadership to fight off terrorist attacks," he said. "I also don't believe the attacks helped Israeli security."

    The US secretary of state, Colin Powell, said the attack will undermine peace efforts: "We are concerned that this type of activity will delay the plan of progress we are hoping for as we move down the road map."

    The Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, called the strike a "criminal and terrorist" attack, and asked the US to intervene. It was a stinging rebuke given that the Israelis and Americans had pressured him into a public rejection of terrorism at last week's peace summit in Jordan.

    The Israeli government said Dr Rantissi was "among the most extremist leaders of the criminal Hamas organisation in Gaza" responsible for killing more than 200 Israeli civilians.

    But until now the government had not targeted him, even though he lived openly, because of his clear identifica tion with the political wing of Hamas.

    In recent days, however, Dr Rantissi was the public face of Hamas in rejecting the US-led road map to a Palestinian state and pledging to maintain the armed struggle against occupation. The Israeli government specifically blamed him for organising the killing of four Israeli soldiers in Gaza last week.

    In Gaza City, much of the anger was directed at Mr Abbas, better known as Abu Mazen. Palestinians said his declaration of an end to the intifada at the summit had given the Israelis a free hand to attack at will. Yesterday young men danced around Dr Rantissi's burnt-out car chanting "Abu Mazen is a collaborator".

    "Targeted killings", as the Israelis like to call them, are a source of great bitterness among Palestinians because of the danger to civilians. Seventeen civilians were killed in the Israeli strike against Shehada last year, including eight children.

    From his hospital bed after an operation, Dr Rantissi told al-Jazeera television he would not abandon his fight.

    · A Brussels appeal court yesterday cleared the way for a war crimes investigation into the alleged involvement of a former Israeli general Amos Yaron in the 1982 massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila camps in Lebanon.

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