Peace process in crisis as Hamas man is assassinated in missile attack

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The Independent Online

The tit-for-tat violence between the Israeli army and Hamas intensified yesterday as Israel assassinated a senior Hamas figure and six others in a rocket attack, provoking threats of revenge from the Islamic militants.

An Israeli helicopter fired missiles at the car of Yasser Taha in Gaza, killing him, his wife and their infant daughter. The attack followed a Hamas suicide bombing on a Jerusalem bus that killed 16 people on Wednesday and a retaliatory helicopter attack by Israel that killed seven. On Tuesday, Israel attempted to assassinate a Hamas leader.

As Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, declared that he would fight the militants "to the bitter end", Hamas leaders warned of suicide bombings to come and told foreign citizens to leave Israel as soon as possible for their own safety.

The three days of bloodshed, in which at least 35 Israelis and Palestinians have died, have reduced to near irrelevance the US-backed road-map for peace.

The Israeli government, which believes that the Palestinian Authority with Abu Mazen as Prime Minister cannot halt the suicide bombings, is directly targeting Hamas.

In Gaza, Palestinians ran through the streets carrying a charred body and some of the 29 wounded, their faces stained with blood. A milk bottle and the baby's shoes were displayed for the television cameras.

Mr Sharon kept up his verbal attacks on the Palestinian leaders, whom he ridiculed as "cry-babies". He decried Abu Mazen as "a chick that hasn't grown its feathers yet" for failing to halt the attacks by armed militant groups.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, a Palestinian cabinet minister, said of Mr Sharon's comments: "His aim is to discredit the Palestinian government and to assassinate his real enemy, the road-map." The Israeli strikes have made it difficult for Abu Mazen, whose birth name is Mahmoud Abbas, to negotiate a ceasefire with Hamas and other militant groups.

The Bush administration, which had turned its anger against the Israeli government after the botched assassination attempt on Tuesday, accused Hamas of being the main obstacle to Middle East peace.

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