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Israel tries to kill a leader of Hamas

By Associated Press
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 11, 2003

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Israel bombed the home of a Hamas leader Wednesday, killing his eldest son and a bodyguard in retaliation for two suicide bombings. The Palestinian prime minister-designate said he will quickly form a government to forestall even harsher Israeli reprisals.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon arrived home early today after cutting short a visit to India, planning to convene senior Cabinet ministers and security commanders for urgent talks after the two blasts killed 15 Israelis.

A security official said the Israeli leader would consider far-reaching options, such as forcing Yasser Arafat into exile or ordering a large-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip.

In one of the most strident comments yet from the mainstream Israeli press, the English-language Jerusalem Post called in an editorial for killing Arafat "because the world leaves us no alternative."

Meanwhile, Israeli forces operating in Ramallah blew up two houses today, one south of Arafat's compound and the other in the suburb of Beitunia.

The spiral of violence drew calls for retaliation from Israelis and Palestinians alike. The Islamic militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for Tuesday's twin suicide attacks and said it would now begin targeting Israeli homes and high-rises in response to Wednesday's airstrike on the home of senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar.

A half-ton bomb flattened the house, wounding Zahar and killing his eldest son and a bodyguard. It marked the first time a Hamas leader has been attacked in his home, an escalation of Israel's campaign against the group. Twenty-five people were wounded, including Zahar's wife and a daughter.

In the West Bank, Palestinian Parliament speaker Ahmed Qureia accepted the job of prime minister after several days of wavering, his decision to accept Arafat's offer apparently rushed by fears that a power vacuum would tempt Israel to intensify military strikes.

Qureia said he would form a crisis Cabinet of no more than eight ministers and seek Parliament's approval today.

President Bush urged Qureia to crack down on terrorists and said the United States has not abandoned its "road map" peace plan despite Tuesday's suicide bombings, which killed 15 people and wounded dozens.

In the northern West Bank late Wednesday, Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian who was trying to damage a security fence between the West Bank and Israel, the military said.

Some 12 hours after Tuesday's attack in Jerusalem, Israeli warplanes bombed the home of Zahar, who Israel says helped decide on suicide bombings that have killed hundreds.

"This crime only is going to escalate the process of resistance," Zahar told the Associated Press from his hospital bed.

Zahar, 58, had a bruise under his left eye and a bandaged hand.

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