Hamas, Israeli officials vow to keep fighting
Gaza attacks, threats rock peace 'road map'
GAZA CITY (CNN) -- A Hamas official targeted by an Israeli helicopter gunship Tuesday vowed that his militant Palestinian group would continue to launch attacks against Israelis.
"We must fight those who came to hurt us inside our home," Hamas spokesman Abdel Aziz Rantissi said from his hospital bed.
"At Hamas, we will not drop our weapons, even if all leaders are assassinated," he said. "We will not drop our weapons. This is the only option for the Palestinian people.
"[Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon understood that the Aqaba summit had given him the green light to kill Palestinian people," Rantissi said. "We are today experiencing a Zionist war against the Palestinians." (Full story)
Israeli military sources said Rantissi was targeted because he has been stepping up his involvement, his incitement and his coordination of attacks against Israel since the U.S.-led "road map" for peace was introduced.
They said a second Apache helicopter strike in Gaza on Tuesday was aimed at militants who fired six homemade Qassam rockets toward Israel. No one was injured by the Qassam rockets. At least two bystanders were killed in the air strikes, according to witnesses and Palestinian sources.
"We will continue to fight against the heads of the extreme terror organizations, the ones that initiate, fund and send out terrorists in order to murder Jews," Sharon said. "We will continue to act against all the enemies of peace."
Bush: 'All parties must behave responsibly'
The Israeli air strikes and subsequent threat from Hamas raised tensions in the region and posed some of the strongest tests of the road map to date. They came on the heels of last week's landmark summit in Aqaba, Jordan, where President George W. Bush met with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and Sharon -- both of whom pledged to take steps toward peace.
In Washington, Bush criticized Israel's actions Tuesday, saying he doesn't believe "the attacks helped Israeli security."
"I am troubled by the recent Israeli helicopter gunship attacks. I regret the loss of innocent life," Bush said. "I am concerned that the attacks will make it more difficult for the Palestinian leadership to fight off terrorist attacks."
Bush added: "I am determined to keep the process on the road to peace. And I believe with responsible leadership by all parties, we can bring peace to the region -- and I emphasize, all parties must behave responsibly to achieve that objective."
Earlier, Abbas called the strikes on Rantissi "an ugly crime."
"This is a terrorist operation in all the meanings of the word," Abbas said. "If we want to characterize such operations, we would say that they are obstacles to every effort."
Abbas has been working with militant Palestinian groups in recent weeks to try to flesh out a cease-fire agreement.
Five killed in Gaza
Israeli helicopter gunships fired six missiles at the jeep carrying Rantissi while it was driving along a busy street, killing a Hamas bodyguard and a female bystander. About 25 people were hurt in the attack, including a 13-year-old girl, Palestinian sources said.
Sources said Rantissi was traveling in the jeep with his son and three bodyguards.
Israeli officials have accused Rantissi of playing a significant role in coordinating an attack Sunday in which Palestinian gunmen dressed in Israel Defense Forces uniforms infiltrated an army position and opened fire, killing four Israeli soldiers and wounding four others.
Hours after the attack on Rantissi's jeep, Israel launched the second attack on a Palestinian car in Gaza, killing at least three people and wounding 33 others, witnesses and Palestinian sources said.
One of those killed was a 16-year-old girl who was a bystander. Two men, ages 19 and 22, also were killed, but it was unclear whether they had been involved in the Qassam rocket launches.
Israeli military sources said five homemade Qassam rockets were fired toward Israeli targets east of Gaza City and confirmed that Israel fired toward the people launching the rockets.
Three of the Qassam rockets landed in Sderot in southern Israel, where a house was struck; a fourth landed near another Israeli community; and a fifth hit an open field north of Gaza. Another apparently was launched but did not reach Israel.
Israel: Action necessary for defense
Ra'anan Gissin, a senior adviser to Sharon, said "a war is being launched" by Hamas and other militant groups.
"That leaves us with no real choice [but] to take necessary action to defend the life of our citizens," he said.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, a Palestinian Cabinet minister, said the Israeli actions signal that Sharon doesn't want to accept the road map.
"It is an assassination to the road map itself," he told CNN. "That's why we are now asking for an American intervention at the highest level to stop this cycle of violence."
Rabbo said Sharon "knows very well" that an assassination attempt on a Hamas leader would result in the group rejecting any cease-fire. The attacks, he said, are an attempt "to provoke Hamas -- so there will be no cease-fire and we will not succeed in putting an end to the cycle of violence."
The U.S. State Department has labeled Hamas a terrorist organization. The group's military wing, Izzedine al Qassam, has admitted responsibility for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and the military.
The IDF said Hamas was targeted because of its continued support of terrorism, and that the Israeli military will "continue to do everything possible to fight terror and safeguard the security of citizens of the state of Israel."
"The Hamas leadership has made a strategic decision to undermine the road map and ruin any chance of dialogue which may lead to a cease-fire and political negotiations," according to an IDF statement.