Hamas to Target Sharon

 

Thursday  March 25, 2004

Hisham Abu Taha, Arab News

GAZA CITY, 25 March 2004 — The new Hamas leader in Gaza said yesterday the group had no plans to attack American targets, backing off earlier threats from its armed wing following Israel’s assassination of Hamas’ founder.

However, the group is considering targeting Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in retaliation for the killing of Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, another top Hamas official said.

Fearing retaliation, Israel has gone on high alert since Yassin’s death, and troops south of the West Bank city of Nablus stopped a Palestinian boy wearing a suicide bomb belt from attacking a checkpoint. Soldiers forced Hussam Abdo, 16, to remove the explosives-packed belt and strip to his underwear.

Sappers later detonated the bomb, the army said.

Israeli troops also entered a village near the northern West Bank town of Jenin, witnesses said, and gunfire was heard in the area. The village was put under curfew and tanks were outside it, the witnesses said.

Israeli military officials confirmed that forces entered the village of Yamoun after being shot at. The soldiers returned fire and chased the gunmen into the village, the officials said on condition of anonymity.

Hamas had made veiled threats it would retaliate against the United States for Yassin’s killing. It has rarely attacked US targets during the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel.

But Abdelaziz Al-Rantissi, named Tuesday as Hamas’ new Gaza chief, said the group’s activities are aimed solely at Israel, which it has pledged to destroy and replace with an Islamic state.

“We are inside Palestinian land and acting only inside Palestinian land. We are resisting the occupation, nothing else,” Rantissi told reporters in Gaza. “Our resistance will continue just inside our border, here inside our country.”

Rantissi also denied reports Hamas will now team up with Al-Qaeda, calling it “Zionist propaganda.”

Hamas’ armed wing issued a statement Monday saying America’s backing of Israel made Yassin’s assassination possible. “All the Muslims of the world will be honored to join in on the retaliation for this crime,” the statement said.

US President George W. Bush said after the statement that the United States takes the threat seriously. On Tuesday, the State Department repeated a long-standing warning urging Americans not to travel to the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said yesterday he opposed targeting civilians.

“We are against any attack on civilians, whether they were Israeli or Palestinian,” he said.

Israel’s Army chief hinted Tuesday that Israel might eventually target Arafat as well.

Hamas said yesterday it was considering targeting Sharon in retaliation for Yassin’s killing.

Khaled Mashaal, Hamas’ overall leader, who is based in Syria, said the group’s military wing would have to see whether its capabilities would allow it to kill Sharon.

“I hope that the holy warriors can retaliate against this awful crime by targeting the most prominent Zionist leaders ... including Sharon,” Mashaal said in an interview posted on a Hamas-affiliated website. “I hope they can succeed.”

For its part, Israel has decided to target the entire Hamas leadership.

Rantissi, who survived an Israeli assassination attempt last June, said yesterday he was not concerned.

“It’s death by killing or cancer,” said Rantissi, a trained physician. “If it’s cardiac arrest or an Apache (helicopter), I prefer to be killed by an Apache.”

Rantissi, 54, has appeared in public frequently since Yassin’s death, but always in large crowds that deter an Israeli attack.

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