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Israel vows new strikes on Hamas

From Kelly Wallace
CNN

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An elderly Palestinian bids farewell Thursday to one of the people killed by Israeli airstrikes taking place over the past two days.

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Amid new violence, President Bush calls for an end to terror support. CNN's Chris Burns reports. (June 11)
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Palestinians crowd around a car in Gaza hit by an Israeli gunship. (June 11)
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CNN's Mike Hanna reports on the gruesome scene following a suicide bombing in Jerusalem. (June 11)
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RECENT ATTACKS
June 8: Three gunmen kill four Israeli soldiers at a Gaza border crossing. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claim joint responsibility.

June 10: Israeli helicopters attack a car in Gaza, wounding Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantissi and killing two others.

June 11: Suicide bomber kills 16 people in Jerusalem. Hamas claims responsibility. Israel launches two separate helicopter attacks in Gaza, killing nine people, including five Hamas members, according to Palestinian sources.

June 12: Israel launches a helicopter strike in Gaza, killing seven Palestinians, including senior Hamas militant Yasser Taha, Palestinian medical officials said.

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- The Israeli military will continue to target the radical Palestinian group Hamas "forcefully" but "regrets ... very much" that members of a Hamas militant's family, including a young child, were killed along with him in Thursday's missile strike in Gaza, an Israeli security source told CNN.

The airstrike, the fifth in three days, killed seven people, including Yasser Taha, his wife and his 3-year-old daughter, Palestinian sources said.

The Israeli military did not know the militant's family was in the car when the helicopter gunships fired at it, the Israeli source said.

A statement from the Israel Defense Forces said Taha was "one of the senior commanders of the military wing of Hamas in Gaza [Izzedine al-Qassam]" and "was involved actively and intensively in murderous attacks, smuggling of weapons and directing vicious terrorists cells."

The statement adds, "During the operation, mistakenly, other members of his family were killed. IDF regrets this and is investigating the circumstances of the event."

"This definitely was a mistake," the security source told CNN. "We received faulty or inaccurate information. ... There is no policy of targeting innocent people."

Hamas: New series of revenge attacks

Hamas spokesman Mahmoud Al-Zahar called the missile strike a "crime" and warned that every Israeli is now a target.

Earlier, in a statement faxed to news agencies in Jerusalem, Hamas warned that Wednesday's bus bombing in Jerusalem that killed 17 people was the beginning of another rash of attacks and said international visitors should leave Israel to protect themselves.

"The Jerusalem attack is the beginning of a new series of revenge attacks ... in which we will target every Zionist occupying our land," Hamas said in the statement. "We call on international citizens to leave the Zionist entity immediately to preserve their lives."

Hamas, listed by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization, regularly launches attacks against Israeli civilians. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Thursday that Israel will not abandon its policy of targeted assassinations of militant leaders.

Israeli security sources describe Taha as a "big fish," charging he was responsible for a March 2002 terrorist attack that left five Israeli students dead.

Israel had been looking for Taha for months, a security source said. In March when Israeli forces went to his house in the Gaza Strip, his father and brother threw grenades at soldiers, Israeli military sources said. Taha's father and his three brothers are now in custody.

Israeli officials said military strikes against Hamas targets Wednesday and Thursday were planned in advance of the bus bombing, not in retaliation for it.

'Hamas is our al Qaeda'

Israel decided to step up its attacks on Hamas in recent days because the militant organization made a "strategic decision" to scuttle the Mideast road map for peace and to step up attacks against Israelis, Israeli officials said.

"We had no other choice but to take security into our own hands," a security source said, charging that the Palestinian Authority is not doing enough to combat terrorism.

"Hamas is our al Qaeda, it is our local al Qaeda," said one senior Israeli official. "Yes, it's an all-out war."

"The ones who need to run are all their leaders," the Israeli official said. "This is going to be a sustained effort at the heads of Hamas."

The Israeli government turned over intelligence information to the White House about Hamas, after U.S. President George W. Bush issued rare criticism of Israel Tuesday for its attempted assassination of Abdel Aziz Rantissi, one of Hamas' most visible figures.

The next day, following the bus bombing, Bush singled out Hamas as a group standing in the way of peace in the Middle East.

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Relatives of a woman killed in the suicide bomb attack aboard a Jerusalem bus mourn her during Thursday’s funeral procession.

Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser, spoke by telephone Thursday with Sharon, senior U.S. State Department and Israeli officials said.

They told CNN Rice conveyed Bush's condolences on Wednesday's suicide bombing and expressed the belief that Israel has a right to defend itself against terrorism.

This is the highest level contact between the U.S. and Israeli governments since the latest cycle of violence began.

In addition, Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke Thursday to Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, a senior State Department official said.

Powell also talked to Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher and Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, according to State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

Powell will meet with the principal members of the Middle East Quartet -- who developed the road map -- in Amman, Jordan, June 22, a statement from Boucher said.

'We can save the road map'

Israeli officials contend that Abbas still has not done anything to crack down on terror.

"What is missing is the will to do it," the senior Israeli official said. "There has to be pressure on him ... (Palestinian Authority President) Yasser Arafat is the big spoiler."

During a Cabinet meeting Thursday, Sharon described Abbas as a "chick" who needs time to "grow feathers."

Palestinian leaders accuse Israel of trying to sabotage steps toward peace by launching military attacks instead of giving Abbas an opportunity to build support and persuade groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad to stop their attacks.

Abbas has said he will not raise arms against the groups.

Palestinian leaders also reject criticism of Arafat from Israel and the United States. They insist he is committed to peace.

A senior Israeli official said, "We are doing whatever we can, but we are not going to have our people to be placed on the altar of the blood trail of terror."

Israeli officials are calling for American pressure on the Palestinian Authority to crack down on terrorism, and for Arab leaders to put pressure on groups like Hamas.

"I believe Arab countries -- with support from the U.S. -- can issue an ultimatum" to groups that are involved in terrorist acts, the senior Israeli official said.

"We can save the road map."


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