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Israel Vows to Hunt Down, Kill Hamas Founder - 2004-01-16

Israel says it will hunt down and kill the founder of Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, in retaliation for a deadly attack this week that killed four Israeli border guards. The statement from Israel's deputy defense minister, is the bluntest warning yet against leaders of the Islamic militant group.

Deputy Defense Minister Zeev Boim told Israeli radio Friday that Sheik Yassin deserves to die, and will be hunted down wherever he may try to hide. He said, "Sheik Yassin is marked for death, and he should hide himself deep underground where he won't know the difference between day and night." The Israeli official added "we will find him in the tunnels, and we will eliminate him."

Israeli officials say they have learned Sheik Yassin personally approved Wednesday's suicide bombing by a Palestinian woman that killed four Israelis at the main crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel.

Sheikh Yassin denied being personally involved in planning attacks. In a very public appearance at a Gaza City mosque Friday he told reporters he does not fear the threat and vowed to continue the resistance until the Israeli occupation is destroyed.

The Hamas leader narrowly escaped an Israeli military attempt to kill him last September.

On Thursday, the Israeli army sealed off the Gaza Strip following the suicide attack, preventing some 6,000 Palestinians from going to their jobs inside Israel.

In another development, Israel's high court said Thursday it will hold a hearing on the legality of Israel's controversial West Bank security barrier before the International Court of Justice in the Hague considers the issue.

The Israeli court says it will hear a petition submitted by a human rights group that questions the legality of the barrier, which cuts deep into Palestinian territory.

The court set a hearing for February 5, two weeks before the Hague court convenes, to determine if Israel is legally obligated to tear down the barrier, much of which has already been built.

Israel says the barrier is meant to stop terrorists entering Israel to carry out attacks. Palestinians say it is an attempt by Israel to unilaterally impose boundaries.