Palestinian militant groups suspended their two-month-old ceasefire last night after Israel assassinated a Hamas leader in Gaza and sent tanks and infantry back into West Bank cities.
The assassination of Ismail Abu Shanab followed Israeli outrage over the bus bombing in Jerusalem on Tuesday, which killed 20 people, including six children. After the air strike on Hamas, the Palestinian Authority in turn suspended the campaign it had launched against the militias, which claimed responsibility for the bombing.
Last night, tens of thousands of Hamas supporters filled the streets of Gaza City and threatened to avenge the missile strike, with one rally leader warning Israelis to prepare bodybags for the dead. About 15 men marched in long robes, signalling their willingness to become the next suicide bombers.
Israeli tanks and armoured vehicles entered the West Bank town of Jenin today for the second consecutive day of raids as troops searched for militants.
Mohammed Dahlan, the Palestinian Internal Security Minister, was briefing his Gaza commanders when an Israeli helicopter fired at Mr Abu Shanab's car, killing him and two bodyguards. The night before, the Palestinian Authority had finally ordered a military crackdown on Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the radical groups that jointly claimed responsibility for the Jerusalem bus atrocity. Mr Dahlan was deciding on targets when the Israelis struck. The assassination brought his campaign to a juddering halt.
"It undermined everything," Elias Zananiri, his spokesman, protested. "The Israelis should have thought twice. Nothing will be done now until the leadership decides."
Mr Abu Shanab, 53, a civil engineer with an MA from the University of Colorado, was a soft-spoken advocate for his Islamist movement. Journalists found him friendly, logical and open to questions, however challenging. Nabil Amr, the Information Minister, remembered him yesterday as "a symbol of moderation".
Mr Abu Shanab said in an interview two months ago: "Let's be frank - we cannot destroy Israel. The practical solution is for us to live alongside Israel. The future Palestinian state is not one that is to take the place of Israel."Reuse content