The Islamic militant group Hamas is threatening bloody revenge after the leader of its military wing in the West Bank was killed in an Israeli missile attack. Israeli officials say the targeted killing was justified because Mahmoud Abu Hanoud was involved in a series of attacks against Israelis.
Thousands of Palestinians vowed during rallies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip Saturday to launch revenge attacks against Israel, the day after Mahmoud Abu Hanoud was killed by missiles fired from Israeli combat helicopters.
The Hamas militant and two other members of the group were killed near Nablus when the missiles slammed into their car. A statement issued by the military wing of Hamas said "revenge will be very soon and very strong against Israel."
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office said in a statement Mr. Abu Hanoud was involved in "a long string of attacks against Israeli citizens," including a number of deadly suicide bombings. Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres called Mr. Abu Hanoud a "professional terrorist" and said the Jewish state acted in self-defense by killing him.
Israeli government spokesman Arye Mekel said such targeted killings would not be necessary if Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat ordered the arrest of militants planning attacks on Israelis. "This particular individual was one of the leaders of the worst faction of terrorists," he said. "He has blood on his hands. He was behind at least five suicide bombers in Jerusalem and other such activities. We have tried to capture him before, unsuccessfully, and this time it was successful. But I think it is important to remember that all this is the result of the fact that the Palestinian Authority and Arafat have done nothing to arrest terrorists, to put them in jail, to prosecute them. If this would have happened there would be no need for our activities."
Israel has killed about 60 militants since the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising nearly 14 months ago. Palestinians call the killings assassinations. The United States and other countries have condemned the practice.
At least a dozen Palestinians have been killed in an upsurge of violence in the last 48 hours. The bloodshed comes as U.S. envoys are set to arrive in the region in a new diplomatic effort to end the fighting.
State Department official William Burns and retired Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni will work with both sides in an effort to establish a cease-fire and implement proposals leading to renewed peace negotiations.