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Michael Holmes: Grim scene in Gaza

CNN's Michael Holmes
CNN's Michael Holmes

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Palestinian witnesses say Israeli helicopters fired missiles at a car in Gaza City. CNN's Jerrold Kessel reports. (August 21)
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GAZA CITY (CNN) -- Senior Hamas leader Ismail Abu Shanab and two bodyguards were killed Thursday when Israeli missiles hit their car in Gaza City, witnesses told CNN.

The attack occurred two days after a Jerusalem bus bombing killed at least 20 people and injured scores of others. Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for that suicide attack.

Hamas said Thursday it was pulling out of the cease-fire against Israel after the Gaza strike.

From Gaza City, CNN Correspondent Michael Holmes spoke Thursday to Anchor Soledad O'Brien about the latest developments in the region.

HOLMES: I'm at the scene of where [the explosion] took place. We were only about a half a mile away when the first missile struck, ironically doing an interview with a senior Palestinian security official, who was telling us that the Palestinian Authority, for the first time, has committed itself to dismantling the armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

We just completed that interview when the missile struck. We made our way over here. The car was well on fire. We are hearing the same as you are -- Abu Shanab, a very senior Hamas official, is among the three dead.

I saw as the three bodies were taken out of the car, all of them completely burned. They were taken out of the car. Abu Shanab is a founder of Hamas. ... The other two dead, I'm told, were his bodyguards.

This is clearly what Israel calls a pinpoint prevention hit and what Palestinians call an assassination. [It's] a very grim scene here on the streets of Gaza. We're in the heart of Gaza City. It's a combined residential and shopping neighborhood. The smoke was rising. It's now gone. The fire has been put out. People are still clustered around the vehicle.

At the height of this, as the bodies [were] being removed, people were chanting anti-Israel slogans, and a crowd of maybe 500 or more people gathered quickly.

Certainly the question now is, what next? The Palestinian Authority's Cabinet met in [the West Bank city of] Ramallah [on Wednesday] night after first meeting in Gaza and promised to take concrete steps against Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and an hour ago or so, I was told those steps would include the complete dismantling of the military wings of both those organizations. [The Palestinian Authority said later that its planned crackdown on militants is on hold.]

What this missile attack means is yet to be seen. I've been told that at least three missiles were fired from Apache attack helicopters, and F-16s were also overhead. ...

O'BRIEN: I know it's very early on the kind of information you're getting, but what can you tell us about this prominent Hamas figure, Abu Shanab?

HOLMES: He's been seen on many television interviews around the world. He's a founder of Hamas. One of the founders. There are several. And [he] has been prominent in the organization for many, many years. Certainly he would have been on Israel's most-wanted list and that is clearly why he was targeted on this occasion.

In the past, with these sort of attacks, bystanders have been killed or injured. This appears not to be the case this time. This is a very busy street, but the missiles appear to have hit the car and the car only, and the only dead or injured are, in fact, Abu Shanab and his bodyguards. Certainly [it was] a high-level target from the Israeli point of view and a man well-respected within the Hamas organization itself. ...

HOLMES (in a later appearance Thursday): Hamas called CNN's Gaza office and said that the cease-fire was over. It is at an end from the perspective of Hamas. ... The cease-fire itself is off, they said. ... It really spells out the complexity of this issue.

Hamas ... claims that the bombing in Jerusalem was in response to Israeli military actions in the West Bank that cost the lives of some of their members. Now, of course, the first thing that [comes] to mind is the proportion of the attack in Jerusalem. That's clearly a catastrophic tragedy killing children on their way back from prayer. Hamas -- they say they were responding and continue to respond to targeting of their members.

They've gone a step further and said after the suicide bombing in West Jerusalem ... they said that their cease-fire would still hold and that this was a direct retaliation, if you like. Now what they're saying is the cease-fire is off altogether -- all bets are off -- but if you were near West Jerusalem the other night, you would wonder what sort of cease-fire was it in the first place anyway.

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