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Anger at killing of Hamas leader

Britain, Egypt condemn strike; White House 'concerned'



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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) -- International condemnation followed Israel's killing of Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi in Gaza City.

Israel, however, defended the strike as a protective move, and the U.S. State Department said it was "considering the situation."

An Israeli helicopter launched the strike on Rantisi's car, killing him and two others -- one of them a bodyguard. Rantisi was taken to a hospital, where he died shortly afterward.

Rantisi was appointed the leader of Hamas in Gaza last month after Israel killed the group's founder and spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

The attack created a loud explosion in Gaza City, and half of the city lost electricity. Ten other people were injured, Palestinian medical sources said.

An Israeli Foreign Ministry official confirmed that the Israel Defense Forces launched a targeted attack on Rantisi.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Gideon Meier said: "We tried to do (this) a few months ago. At that time, he managed to run away. This time we got him."

As news of the killing swept through the territory, thousands of Hamas activists spilled into the streets.

In an exclusive interview with CNN, one of Rantisi's sons, Mohammed, said he had expected his father's death.

"In jihad ... there are usually two outcomes, either martyrdom or victory," Mohammed Rantisi said. "In this case, he got martyrdom.

"This was not unexpected from the Jews, because they have been trying for a while to carry out such an assassination," he said. "They target all the Palestinians, so of course they would single out our leaders. ... The leaders are always targets of such operations."

Hamas is a Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist organization whose military wing has admitted responsibility for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians. The United States and Israel consider it a terrorist group.

Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat said the killing demonstrated the need for Palestinians to defend themselves against Israel. He condemned "the crime of the assassination of Rantisi" and called for international protection for Palestinians.

Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashwari said, "Predictably the Palestinians are extremely angry. They are calling out for revenge. There is a sense that Israel is not only pursuing a policy of assassination and lawlessness, but it is doing so with the full blessings of collusion of the U.S."

Egypt and Britain both criticized the attack on Rantisi, describing it as criminal and counterproductive to the peace process.

Reuters reported that Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher issued a statement reading: "Egypt strongly condemns the new crime Israel has committed. This assassination raises questions about the reality of [Israel's] aims and confirms that it exploits opportunities to try to deceive the world, kill off the chances for peace [and] push the region to the edge of the abyss."

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw condemned the missile strike.

"The British government has made it repeatedly clear that so-called targeted assassinations of this kind are unlawful, unjustified and counterproductive."

But the United States' reaction was a measured one.

A senior State Department official said: "We are considering the situation very carefully. Certainly, we did not give Israel any kind of green light, and we did not have any kind of advance knowledge."

The White House issued a statement: "As we have repeatedly made clear, Israel has the right to defend itself from terrorist attacks.

"Hamas is a terrorist organization that attacks civilians, and that claimed responsibility for the suicide attack today that killed one and injured other Israeli guards at the Erez crossing. The United States is gravely concerned for regional peace and stability. The United States strongly urges Israel to consider carefully the consequences of its actions, and we again urge all parties to exercise maximum restraint at this time."

Israeli officials said the killing was justified and alleged that Rantisi had planned the slaying of hundreds of Israeli civilians in terror attacks. Those actions, they said, made him a legitimate target. They also said it was not a quid pro quo move in response to a Palestinian suicide bombing earlier in the day at Erez.

"We are not in the business of retaliation," Meier said. "We are in the business of protecting the Israeli people from the vicious terror which comes out from Hamas and Islamic Jihad. We are here to protect our people."

Dore Gold, one of Sharon's advisers, said, "For the last decade, Hamas and Mr. Rantisi have been behind a spate of suicide bombings in the heart of Israeli cities. ...Therefore Israel adopts these self-defense operations in order to protect our civilians."

Sources inside the military wing of Hamas confirmed Sunday that it has appointed a leader to replace Rantisi, but no more details were available.


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