Fri, Aug 22, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Hamas ends truce after leader killed

RETALIATIONA missile attack in which the political head of the militant group died prompted it to pull out of a ceasefire, further undermining peace efforts

REUTERS , GAZA

Israeli women mourn at the site in Jerusalem where a Palestinian suicide bomber blew up a bus on Tuesday, killing 20 people.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Israel killed Hamas political leader Ismail Abu Shanab in a missile strike yesterday, two days after a suicide bombing in Jerusalem, and Islamic militant groups called off a seven-week-old old ceasefire.

The collapse of the truce, agreed by militant factions under international pressure, could sink a US-backed "road map" peace plan aimed at defusing a 34-month-old uprising and creating a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza by 2005.

Ismail Abu Shanab, a senior figure in Hamas's political wing with a high media profile, was killed along with two bodyguards when four missiles fired by helicopter gunships shattered his car as it drove through Gaza City, witnesses and medics said.

Israel had hours earlier approved tougher military action against the militants following the suicide bombing that killed 20 people on a Jerusalem bus on Tuesday, one of the bloodiest attacks in almost three years of conflict.

Hamas said it carried out the bus attack as retribution for the killing of members of the group, which is sworn to Israel's destruction, in Israeli army raids that have continued despite the truce.

Hamas swiftly vowed to avenge his death and another senior Hamas spokesman said the missile attack freed the group from its commitment to observing the unilateral truce with Israel.

"The assassination of Abu Shanab ... means that the Zionist enemy has assassinated the truce and the Hamas movement holds the Zionist enemy fully responsible for the consequences of its crime," Ismail al-Haniyah told reporters in Gaza.

Hamas's close ally Islamic Jihad also renounced the truce.

Reformist Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas called the missile attack "an ugly crime." Aides said it would trigger a relapse into tit-for-tat violence, thwarting peacemaking.

"Israel's continuation of this escalatory policy will ... weaken the Palestinian Authority's ability to restore calm and to move on to the political process," Information Minister Nabil Amr said in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

"This attack is irresponsible and takes us back to the cycle of violence which the Palestinian Authority is trying to avoid."

The ceasefire markedly reduced violence but was wobbly from the start on June 29. Some militant cells, including within Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, rejected it and continued sporadic attacks on Israelis.

But until yesterday militant faction spokesmen had insisted the truce remained in force and said three suicide bombings since Aug. 12 were solely one-off reprisals for Israeli army raids that netted or killed a handful of wanted men.

Earlier yesterday, the Israeli army swept into the West Bank cities of Jenin and Nablus and arrested several wanted Palestinian militants, a military spokesman said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's security Cabinet said in a statement after overnight deliberations that no progress on the road map was conceivable unless Palestinian authorities took action against militant factions behind attacks -- as the peace plan requires.

"If the Palestinian government does not take all necessary steps in the war on terror -- real and substantive steps -- it will not be possible to move to the stage of diplomatic talks," it said.

Abbas's Cabinet, which also met overnight, vowed to enforce compliance by all Palestinians with "one authority and rule of law."

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