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Israeli spokesman: 'We have to protect our people'

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Gallery: The death of Rantisi

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Abdel Aziz Rantizi was against compromise with Israel and a critic of the Palestinian Authority.

Early footage and reports of the attack against Rantisi.
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(CNN) -- Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi was killed Saturday in Gaza City by Israeli missiles that struck his car. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Gideon Meier spoke by telephone with CNN's Fredricka Whitfield about the targeted airstrike.

WHITFIELD: Mr. Meier, Hamas has said quite pointedly [that it has] the right to retaliate, and [the] Israeli government has yet to officially respond about this assassination attack. Are you able to give the response on behalf of [Israeli Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon?

MEIER: Oh, yes. Absolutely. First of all, we have to understand ... We are not talking about retaliation. We are not in the business of retaliation. We are in the business of protecting the Israeli people from the vicious terror which comes from Hamas and Islamic Jihad. We are here to protect our people. We are here in the business of protecting the Israeli people and to make peace with our Palestinian neighbors. In order to make peace, in order to talk peace with our neighbors we must first and foremost secure our people from this terrorism, ... [which is] not something which started yesterday. It has nothing to do with the terrorist attack today. It is a continuous wave of terrorism ... even at the peak of the negotiation, during the Oslo [peace] process, we were witnessing this kind of terror which came out of Hamas. Therefore, since the Palestinian Authority is not standing by its obligation according to the road map [to Mideast peace] to dismantle the infrastructure of terror, we have no choice.

WHITFIELD: When you say this is the latest example of protecting, you know, your protecting people, this is a retaliation then for what specifically?

MEIER: This is not a retaliation. I just said we are not in the business ...

WHITFIELD: What's the difference?

MEIER: Oh, there's a big difference. We are fighting terrorism. We have to understand Rantisi, who was targeted tonight, is not Mother Teresa. This is a man who is involved in terrorism. This is a man who was sending his suicide bombers on the Passover night [suicide bombing, in which more than two dozen were killed and over 100 wounded while celebrating Passover at a hotel in Netanya in 2002] two years ago. This is a man who is sending his suicide bombers to coffee shops, ... to buses. This is a man which has to be dead in order to prevent future terrorist attacks. We are not in the business of retaliation. We don't have time to retaliate. We have time to protect our people.

WHITFIELD: Does this exemplify what you were just saying as a continuous behave of -- wave of terrorism, a continuous wave of violence?

MEIER: We are not talking about the wave of violence, ... something which Israel [has been] exposed to since its inception. The Hamas is in the business of terrorism. The Hamas is part of a major international wave of terrorism along with the local al Qaeda. Hamas is part of the terrorist network of al Qaeda, which also perpetrated a major terrorist attack in Madrid, Spain, a few weeks ago. It's the same network. They are all in the business of killing innocent people. And we have no time. We have to protect our people, because at the end of the day, my children, my grandchildren will have to live in peace with our neighbors. And this, we will be able to do only if there will be no terror.

WHITFIELD: Well, Mr. Meier, can you give me a sense as to the planning of this assassination. We know Ariel Sharon has made it very clear, and other leaders of your government have made it very clear, that he was a marked man, Rantisi was, and that it wasn't out of the realm of possibility that he would be assassinated. Can you describe for me the buildup to today?

MEIER: Absolutely. First of all, there was a decision of the Israeli Cabinet a few months ago already that every terrorist is a legitimate target for Israel. ... We were waiting for the right precise intelligence. Since we got it tonight, this is what we did. And let us remind -- let me remind you and your viewers that it's not the first time that Rantisi was a target. If we already did it, we tried to do it a few months ago. At that time, he managed to run away. This time we got him. And he and his followers must understand that, if they will continue this kind of terrorism against innocent Israelis, every one of them is a legitimate target.

WHITFIELD: Now what? Yassin has been assassinated. Rantisi. Is it a matter of going down the line in Hamas to determine who would pick up the leadership now that Rantisi is out of picture?

MEIER: We have two choices. Either the Palestinian Authority will right away start to implement the road map for peace in the Middle East, and part of it is obviously to dismantle the infrastructure of terror. And if they will do it, we can go back to the negotiating table and start to talk about and go to the business of peace-making. If terrorism will continue and if the next leader of Hamas will continue to send suicide bombers to Israel and to send bombs, the homicide bombers to Israel, he will have the same fate as Rantisi and Yassin before.

WHITFIELD: ... Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat ... as well as another analyst we had on the air earlier said that the Bush administration in its relationship with Ariel Sharon [has] essentially set the stage for something like this to happen, to give Israel the green light to carry out assassinations. Is that the directive that your government is feeling confident about?

MEIER: Absolutely not. It's about time that Saeb Erakat instead of bombarding us with so many words, will take action and will start to fight terrorism. With words, you cannot stop terrorism. ... We are [a] sovereign country. ... We don't need to get any green light from anyone.

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