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Israeli gunships target Hamas spokesman

Abbas calls attack 'criminal and terrorist'

A vehicle burns following an Israeli missile strike in Gaza on Tuesday.
A vehicle burns following an Israeli missile strike in Gaza on Tuesday.

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CNN's Jerrold Kessel reports the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers pledge to continue on the 'road map.'
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GAZA CITY (CNN) -- A Hamas official who had declared the militant group would continue its attacks against Israel was wounded on Tuesday when Israeli helicopter gunships launched missiles at a vehicle in Gaza City.

Two people were killed in the strike that injured Abdel Aziz Rantissi, Palestinian sources said. Rantissi is a key public figure who often defends Hamas or explains the Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist group's motivations to the world.

The strike came after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had vowed to press on with the "road map" to peace despite the Hamas threat and a Sunday gunfight that left four Israeli soldiers and three Palestinian militants dead.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas called the strike a "criminal and terrorist" attack and said "such attacks obstruct and sabotage the political process. ... We will not allow blatant Israeli attempt(s) to create internal conflict between our people."

Abbas had said on Monday that he would continue to pursue cease-fire talks with Hamas and other militant groups, saying "The Palestinian suffering needs solutions, it does not need violence."

A woman and one of Rantissi's bodyguards were reported killed in Tuesday's strike when missiles hit at least one vehicle, leaving it a mangled hulk. More than 25 people were injured, 14 of them seriously, Palestinian sources said.

Five or six missiles were fired from two Israeli Apache helicopters, witnesses said. The first missiles missed the jeep, giving Rantissi and his entourage time to flee the vehicle just before it was hit. Rantissi was the driver of the car, sources said.

Rantissi had shrapnel in his leg, while his son, Ahmad, suffered a serious wound when shrapnel cut a main artery in his thigh, the sources said. Rantissi and his son -- between 10 and 12 years old -- are in a hospital being treated, according to the sources.

Shortly after the strike, Hamas officials vowed revenge against Israel.

An Israeli government source said that Israel sees Rantissi -- though he is associated with Hamas' political rather than military machinery -- "as a person giving guidance and direction for terrorist attacks" and said the Jewish state will "continue to fight the terrorist elements."

Rantissi said Sunday that Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups would continue to strike Israelis despite last week's summit in Aqaba, Jordan, in which the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers pledged to follow the road map.

Rantissi's warning was made just hours after Palestinian militants killed four Israeli soldiers in an unusual joint operation at a military checkpoint in northern Gaza involving members of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. In a separate shooting Sunday, an Israeli soldier also was killed near the West Bank town of Hebron.

"We are all against surrender in front of the aggression of Israelis," Rantissi had said.

Sharon and Abbas had vowed that Sunday's violence would not disrupt the peace process.

The joint attack was seen as a direct challenge to the newly installed Abbas. All three groups involved are considered terrorist groups by Israel and the U.S. State Department.

Hamas announced last week it was breaking off talks with Abbas, accusing him of giving in too much to Israel at the peace summit with Sharon and President Bush.

But Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader, appeared to step back from that position Monday, saying the group is not opposed in principle to talks and would decide in the next several days whether to reopen discussions with the Palestinian Authority on a cease-fire with Israel.

Also Monday, Israeli troops began dismantling unoccupied illegal settler outposts in the West Bank, military sources said. (Full story)

The move is the first time that Israel has taken steps to remove such outposts in almost a year.

The Israeli government has pledged to remove outposts, including at least four inhabited ones, as a step in the road map.


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