Rantisi will take Yassin's place in Gaza

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The Independent Online

Abdel Aziz Rantisi was named yesterday as Hamas chief for the Gaza Strip and immediately repeated the faction's vows of vengeance for the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

Abdel Aziz Rantisi was named yesterday as Hamas chief for the Gaza Strip and immediately repeated the faction's vows of vengeance for the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

Mr Rantisi, 57, a frequent spokesman for Hamas on television, was appointed as the organisation moved swiftly to fill the gaps left by Sheikh Yassin. It designated the exiled Khaled Mashaal, chief of the faction's political bureau, as overall leader.

Mr Rantisi addressed thousands of mourners gathered in Gaza's main soccer stadium a day after Sheikh Yassin was killed in a missile strike by Israeli helicopters. He said: "We will fight them everywhere. We will hit them everywhere. We will chase them everywhere. We will teach them lessons in confrontation."

Hamas supporters responded, chanting: "We will sacrifice our blood and souls for you."

Mr Rantisi, a paediatrician, said that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other Israeli leaders would never feel "security or safety".

He said: "My dear people, you who were displaced by the Jews from your cities and villages, you will return to your villages and cities through fighting, because we don't have any other strategic option ... Resistance is continuing," he said.

Hamas's new Gaza leader is seen in some quarters as a hardliner, in contrast to Abu Shanab who was also assassinated by the Israelis last year and had floated possible acceptance of a two-state solution as an interim means of achieving peace. Mr Rantisi's family fled as refugees to Gaza in 1948 from their home village near Jaffa. He has six children and has had a post at the Islamic university in Gaza since 1978. Arrested five times by the Israelis in the 1980s and 1990s, he was expelled to south Lebanon in 1992 with 400 activists from Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

He became the spokesman for the group, which returned after a year. He was arrested on his return and sentenced to three and a half years in prison for his political activities in South Lebanon. He stayed in prison until 1997. In June last year, he escaped an assassination attempt, which was criticised publicly at the time by President George Bush.

* Arabs marched in their hundreds in the streets of Nazareth yesterday to protest against the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. The protesters, among them senior Arab officials, were dressed in black, and hoisting black banners, Palestinian flags, along with a wheelchair and coffin.

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