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Israel's Targeted Killings Threaten Peace in Entire Region, say Arab Leaders - 2004-04-18

Arab leaders are harshly condemning the Israeli assassination of Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi, saying Israel's policy of targeted killings threatens peace and security in the entire region.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa described the assassination of the Palestinian leader as "state terrorism." He said it will encourage a new spiral of violence. Arab League spokesman Hossam Zaki explains.

"The reaction of the secretary-general is this is yet another attempt, yet another assassination, yet another operation of those state terrorism operations conducted by the Israeli government, which is to be condemned fully," said Arab League spokesman Hossam Zaki.

Several Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Jordan, said the murder of Mr. Rantisi, who had only just replaced Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin, killed by an Israeli air strike last month, is a crime that violates international conventions.

The Palestinian prime minister went a step further, directly linking the Israeli action to what he called "American encouragement."

Noting that Israel struck down the Hamas leader just two days after a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President Bush, Mr. Zaki said many in the Arab world see a possible connection.

"We take note of what the spokesman of the State Department said, that the United States did not know of this operation beforehand, but the Arab street in my view has very serious and I might add legitimate question marks and doubts and suspicions about this position," said Mr. Zaki.

The United States considers Hamas a terrorist organization. The White House has called for both sides to exercise restraint, and said Israel has a right to defend itself from terrorist attacks.

On Saturday, the Arab League unanimously rejected the new U.S. policy endorsing the Sharon plan calling for Israel to leave the Gaza Strip, but to hold onto parts of the West Bank, saying the plan is likely to wreck the peace process in the Middle East. Palestinians say they want a complete Israeli withdrawal from all territories occupied in the 1967 war.