Israel targeted the Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi in a missile strike today. Doctors said he was injured in the leg while two bystanders were killed and two dozen other people hurt.
Three Israeli Apache helicopter gunships fired at least seven missiles toward Rantisi's Jeep Pajero on a crowded road in Gaza City. The vehicle burst into flames.
The missile strike jeopardized efforts to persuade militant groups, including Hamas, to halt attacks on Israelis. It also appeared to violate the spirit of a US-backed peace plan, as part of which Israel promised to refrain from actions that undermine trust. There was no immediate Israeli comment.
Hamas quickly threatened revenge. "This crime will not pass," said Mahmoud Zahar, another Hamas leader. He said there would be more attacks on Israelis. "Israel can expect severe punishment for this crime," he said.
Palestinian doctors said Rantisi was injured in the leg, and was undergoing an operation at Gaza City's Shifa Hospital. Initial reports of one man having been killed could not be confirmed. A total of 25 people were wounded, including three of Rantisi's bodyguards and Rantisi's son, said Dr. Moawiya Hassanain, director of Shifa Hospital.
The Israeli missile strike came as Egypt was making a renewed effort to persuade Hamas and other militant groups to halt attacks on Israelis. The Egyptian intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, was to meet with Hamas leaders in Gaza on Wednesday, but it was not clear whether the talks would be held as planned.
Last week, Hamas announced that it was breaking off truce talks with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, complaining that he has been too conciliatory to Israel, particularly in his speech at a Mideast summit last week.
At the summit, Abbas called for an end to the "armed intefadeh" and denounced violence against Israelis everywhere.
Rantisi, a leader of the Hamas political wing, is considered a hardliner in the Islamic militant group. He has been among the most vocal in opposing a halt to attacks on Israelis.
In the past, Israel has killed scores of wanted Palestinians in helicopter missile strikes. Today's attack marked the first time Israel openly targeted a political leader of Hamas.Reuse content