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Who was Ismail Abu Shanab?

By Wolf Blitzer

A vehicle burns in Gaza City after Thursday's Israeli missile attack.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In the wreckage of a burned-out station wagon, Hamas lost one of its founders Thursday.

Through two intifadas and countless reprisal battles with the Israelis, Ismail Abu Shanab emerged as a public face of the Islamist group.

I interviewed him on April 16 of last year in the midst of a horrible cycle of violence. This was after the devastating Passover Seder suicide bombing in late March, for which Hamas claimed responsibility, and the grinding street-battle at the Jenin refugee camp.

When I asked if he supported those suicide bombing attacks against Israeli civilians, he replied, "Nobody likes and nobody supports killing innocent people. But the Palestinian position is in a self-defense position, that Palestinians who suffer from Israeli occupation and from Israeli military forces, who kill and massacre and destroy all of their infrastructure and all of their improprieties."

The Israeli military said Abu Shanab had been involved in planning recent attacks against Israelis.

But Palestinians had a different view of the 53-year-old father of 11, who'd gotten a degree in civil engineering in Colorado. After serving at least seven years in an Israeli prison for his role in establishing Hamas, Abu Shanab had, in recent years, acted as a liaison with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas who was then trying to persuade militant groups to stop attacking Israelis.

Last year, I asked Abu Shanab if he encouraged young people to go out and act as suicide bombers.

"No, totally," he told me. "They do it by their own initiative, but impressed and incited by Sharon's plan to kill more Palestinians and by Sharon's soldiers and tanks and airplanes, who kill more Palestinians."

I also asked him whether he would support an independent Jewish state if Israel withdrew to the 1967 borders.

"We support one thing: Israeli full withdrawal from our land," answered Shanab. "If this is achieved, we support any plan which can get this Israeli occupation to withdraw. We are willing to live in peace."

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