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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Prominent Hamas Figure Killed in Gaza City

Aired August 21, 2003 - 07:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Lots to talk about this morning, including some breaking news that's coming to us out of the Middle East. A prominent Hamas figure has been killed in Gaza.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Abu Shanab among at least two others killed in the heart of Gaza City a short time ago. The others were described as his bodyguards. Israeli helicopters fired at least three missiles in an apparent retaliatory strike for the suicide bombing Tuesday of a bus in Jerusalem. Twenty people were killed in that attack, including a number of young children.

O'BRIEN: CNN's Michael Holmes is in Gaza, and he joins us by phone for more on the attack.

Michael -- good morning. Why don't you start with the very latest from where you are?

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Soledad and Bill.

Yes, I'm at the scene of where this 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 had just completed that interview when the missile struck. We made our way over here. The car was well alight. I can confirm to you, too, that we are hearing the same as you are -- that 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 very badly injured and completely burned. They were taken out of the car.

Abu Shanab is a founder of Hamas, a very senior official. The other two dead, I am told, were his bodyguards.

This was clearly what Israel calls a "pinpoint prevention hit," and what Palestinians call a "targeted assassination."

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.

And the smoke was rising. It's now gone. The fire has been put out. People are still clustered around the vehicle, when, at the height of this as the bodies were being removed, people were chanting anti-Israeli slogans. A crowd of maybe 500 or more people gathered very quickly.

So, certainly the question now is: What next? The Palestinian Authority had met -- the cabinet had met in Ramallah last night, after first meeting here in Gaza, and promising to take concrete steps at last against Hamas and Islamic Jihad. And, as I say, not an hour or so ago, I was told that those steps would include the complete dismantling of the military wings of both of those organizations.

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

O'BRIEN: The truce, of course, as you well know, just about seven weeks old, already under a lot of pressure in the wake of the suicide bombing that killed 20 in Jerusalem on the bus. What is the effect, potentially, that this retaliatory response could have, do you think?

HOLMES: It's very difficult (UNINTELLIGIBLE). If the Palestinian Authority is serious about having started to take steps to dismantle the military wing of Hamas and disarm it and turn the group into a political party only, which is what we were told was on the way, then this may have an impact certainly on the Palestinian streets. To have the Palestinian Authority disarming Hamas is one thing, to have a missile attack from Israel is another, and it may alter the mood on the street.

Whether it actually changes the route that the Palestinian Authority wants to take is doubtful. I would doubt not.

The Palestinian security official, the very senior one I was speaking to, said that the Palestinian Authority was committed to going ahead. Now, of course, that was before this missile attack. What may change, I don't know. But from what he was telling me, this is a plan that is now about to be put into action. And whether it will be derailed or not remains to be seen.

O'BRIEN: What can you tell us -- and I know it's very early in the kind of information that you're getting. But what can you tell us about this prominent Hamas figure, Abu Shanab?

HOLMES: Well, he is a very senior official. He's a senior spokesman. He's been seen on many television interviews around the world. He's a founder of Hamas. In fact, one of the founders -- there are several, and 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 sorts of attacks, bystanders have been killed or injured. That appears to not be the case this time. This is a very busy street, but the missiles appeared to have hit the car and the car only, and the only dead or injured are, in fact, Abu Shanab and his bodyguards. So, certainly a very high-level target from the Israeli point of view and a man well-respected within the Hamas organization itself.

O'BRIEN: CNN's Michael Holmes joining us from Gaza by phone this morning. Michael, thanks for that update for us.

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