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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Hamas Leader Rantisi Killed By Israel

Aired April 17, 2004 - 14:16   ET

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


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN, BREAKING NEWS.
FREDERICKA WHITFIELD: All right, another story, we're following for you, of course, the ongoing case of Dru Sjodin, here in the States, but then overseas in the Middle East now, a breaking story we're following for you there in Gaza City.

Apparently the vehicle of the Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi, that vehicle was exploded. We don't know if it was shot down, in what capacity. Something happened. All we know now -- and we're seeing some new pictures in, presumably that is the body of Rantisi being taken to a hospital.

We know -- CNN confirmed he has been taken to a hospital in Gaza City. And presumably because we're showing you that picture that is him on the stretcher.

Mr. Rantisi is known to be a very key figure in the Hamas group. Apparently he's being pegged with being responsible for directing many of the terrorist attacks that have taken place in that region. And now on a day that had already shown some violence in Gaza, apparently at least two suicide bombers had gone to an area in Gaza City and Israeli soldiers were injured in an explosion, where at least, I should say, one suicide bomber was killed.

And now consequently a few hours later, we're hearing reports now that the vehicle of the Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi was exploded in some capacity and that he has been injured. Or at least it looks as though he's been injured for now. We don't know anything more about his condition. But that he's being treated at a hospital in Gaza.

These are new pictures we're getting in now, clearly, some reaction and outrage to the explosion of that vehicle. Some there climbing on top of the vehicle, even taking pictures, presumably looking for a little bit more of an explanation as to what happened.

We'll cover this story throughout the afternoon here on CNN. When we get more information, we'll be bringing that to you live. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN BREAKING NEWS.

WHITFIELD: I'm Fredricka Whitfield. More now on a breaking story we're following for you out of Gaza City. Reports of an explosion taking place involving the vehicle of Hamas leader Abdul Aziz Rantisi. And CNN confirmed, shortly after being taken to the hospital, he has now been declared dead.

Our Paula Hancocks is on the telephone with us now to give us a little bit more about the circumstances of this.

And, Paula, we know now, or we can suspect there will be serious ramifications now following this. And sorry -- you're not on the telephone -- you are actually live for us now. Give us an idea of the anticipation now of the ramifications following this Hamas leader's death.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, at the moment, just in fact after that attack happened, thousands of Hamas activists came out on to the streets. As you say, in the last few minutes, CNN has confirmed that Abdel Aziz Rantisi, the Hamas leader, has been proclaimed dead.

So you can only imagine what is going happen. But there are thousands of Hamas activists on the street at the moment. There have been protests throughout this day, throughout this Saturday and also on Friday there have been burning of Israeli flags, burning of U.S. flags, and also the burning of effigies of George Bush and Ariel Sharon.

But there are thousands on the streets now after the death of Abdel Aziz Rantisi. The details, Fredricka, are still a little sketchy. His car did explode but it is unsure whether or not it was a missile attack from the Israelis or whether or not his car was bobby trapped or something along those lines.

Also one of his bodyguards has been killed -- or injured, as well. His son has also been injured. We're getting information now as to what exactly did happen, whether or not it was a missile attack. But just to confirm, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, the Hamas leader is dead.

Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Now, Paula, is there any suspicion this was perhaps retaliation for earlier in the day, a suicide bombing attack injuring some Israeli soldiers -- in Gaza, right?

HANCOCKS: That would be a fair guess, yes. It is impossible to know and the Israeli military are not going to confirm that sort of question. They always say they don't retaliate for these kinds of attacks. That was hours ago this Saturday, there was a suicide bombing near the Erez (ph) industrial zone. Just inside at the entrance of that industrial zone.

Four Israeli bodyguards, security guards were wounded; one of those critically. We're learning that that one did, in fact, die. And this is inevitable that people will say this a retaliatory action. It is something that Israel and the Israeli military have been doing for some time, this so-called targeted killing or the assassinations.

Back in march, the end of march, you'll remember, March 22nd, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder and spiritual leader of Hamas, was assassinated. And shortly after this, Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi took control. And now he, as well, has been assassinated, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: I know this is just happening and all things are happening very quickly. Paula, in your reporting have you been able to determine exactly where Rantisi was going, the location of the explosion of his vehicle, where in Gaza City was that? Was it in proximity to a place where he lives or a place of meeting, what do we know?

HANCOCKS: Well, details are still coming in. We don't have the exact location of where he was. We know he was in Gaza City in the Gaza Strip. That is as much as we know at the moment.

He was in his car though, his car did explode; we're still trying to find out whether or not that was from a missile attack from the Israeli military or whether or not his car was bobby trapped. The Israeli military in the past has done a lot of these missile attacks, these so-called targeted killings. Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, being the last high profile victim, a target, I should say, of the Israeli military.

WHITFIELD: It is safe to assume, Paula, isn't it, that he has been under close watch for some time now, particularly in most recent weeks bit Israeli authorities.

HANCOCKS: That's right. The Israeli authorities basically said he was a marked man. As soon as he took control of Hamas and became one of the top leaders after the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

They said he was a marked man. They said he could be next and sources have been telling us that Abdel Aziz Rantisi had gone underground. We didn't see very much of him at all just after he took over from Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. He had a big conference, if you like, in a big football stadium, where a lot of Hamas activists came and greeted him and kissed him on both cheeks. And it was a very big PR event. It was a very big television event, if you like.

But since that time, the Israeli military has insisted they would continue the so-called targeted killings, the assassinations. Since that time we haven't seen very much of Rantisi at all, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: So now give us a sense as to what kind of fallout might be anticipated by the Israeli government, now that this kind of assassination, as you put it, has taken place.

HANCOCKS: This is the perfect example of what so many people called the cycle of violence. You have a suicide bombing, then you have a retaliatory attack or targeted killing by the Israelis, then another suicide bombing. It is anyone's guess what is exactly going to happen as retaliation for this assassination of Rantisi.

But we did have the suicide bombing a little earlier on today. We have this today, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, being declared dead a few moments ago, about 10, 15 minutes ago. There are thousands of Hamas activists on the street. This is exactly what happened after Sheikh Ahmed Yassin was assassinated. In fact, in his case, tens of thousands came to the streets in anger and shock and mourning for Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. The same appears, on a smaller scale, to be happening for Abdel Aziz Rantisi, as well.

So, inevitably, this is only going to incite Palestinian anger even more, or at least the anger of the Hamas activists and those who supported Abdel Aziz Rantisi, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Paula Hancocks, thanks very much for that update.

Once again, if you're just joining us, the Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi has been declared dead now, dying after being taken to a hospital after his car exploded. But what is unclear, as just heard from Paula Hancocks there, it is not certain whether his vehicle was bobby trapped or perhaps it was targeted by any kind of helicopter missiles by the Israeli government. We just don't know.

Paula, so eloquently described that the Israeli government had already let Rantisi know he was a marked man and that it was likely that he might be targeted for an assassination and it appears as though we know now that they were successful in that.

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