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Israel Assassinates Top Hamas Activist

Israel Assassinates Top Hamas Activist Ahead of Rice’s Visit

In another escalation that would spark new violence, Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) assassinated a top Hamas activist Saturday night in the southern West Bank city of Hebron as US national security adviser Condoleezza Rice is expected in the region next week to try push forward the “roadmap” peace plan.

An Israeli undercover unit extra-judicially murdered Abdullah Qawasmeh, considered the top Hamas activist in the West Bank, Palestinian sources said.

Qawassmeh’s deputy Ahmad Bader, who was at the scene, escaped unharmed, the BBC reported.

The killing appeared to fall in line with Israel’s policy of assassinations, which has already resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Palestinians, mostly civilians, including women and children, since September 2000.

Qawasmeh’s assassination also came the day after US Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory to press Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian premier Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) to implement the US-backed Middle East peace plan.

Powell, meanwhile, is expected to meet Sunday the other members of the Middle East peace “Quartet” who drafted the “roadmap” -- the European Union, Russia and United Nations -- on the sidelines of a World Economic Forum (WEF) in Jordan.

The Palestinian premier has been trying to secure a truce declaration by Palestinian factions, especially Hamas and al-Jihad groups.

However, the killing of Qawasmeh was certain to incite Hamas to seek retaliation and push Abbas toward a moment of truth, as Hamas is now sure to resist any freeze on attacks against Israel.

Earlier this month, at least fifteen Israelis were killed in a suicide bomb in an Israeli bus in west Jerusalem. The attack was claimed by Hamas, which said it came in retaliation to the failed Israeli assassination attempt on its political leader Abel Aziz al-Rantisisi.

Since the Palestinian – Israeli – US Aqaba summit meeting “47 Palestinians and 27 Israelis have been killed, Israel has tightened the closure it imposes on Palestinians and made their freedom of) movement harder, (Palestinian) houses are still being demolished and the (Israeli) settlements are still expanding,” Abbas announced in a joint press conference with Powell in Jericho on Friday.

Abbas urged Israel “to change its ways.”

“We are on the threshold of a historic era to resolve our conflict for good and (Israel’s) ways should change. Israel should transform from a foe to a partner for our efforts to succeed. The logic of confrontation is not in harmony with the logic of peace,” he said.

“Israeli acts reflect hesitation in adopting the new road for progress,” he added.

Powell on his part urged Israel on Thursday “to consider the consequences” of its assassinations policy.

He said the Israelis “have made it clear (to him) that they reserved the right to halt potential attacks”…but “when you expand out of that concept of self-defense into broad targeting,” he said, “you have to consider the consequences,” Powell said Thursday.

The Palestinian cabinet, meeting in Ramallah Saturday, condemned Israel’s assassination policy, adding that the Israeli policy is a violation of the “roadmap” peace plan.

Meanwhile, in the Gaza Strip on Saturday, an elderly Palestinian died of wounds he sustained earlier this month in an Israeli Apache raid on a civilian car in Gaza city.

Hasan Abu Eidah, 53, was seriously wounded in the Israeli Apache assassination attack on the 13th of June, medics said.

Also in Gaza, the Israeli occupation army destroyed a house in the refugee camp of Deir el-Ballah after carrying an incursion into the area, Palestinian security sources said.

Earlier, a Palestinian man, identified as Belal Shrab, was shot dead by IOF soldiers in the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis, Palestinian medical sources said Friday.

Israeli occupation forces raided al-Satr al Gharby area, west of Khan Younis, and randomly opened heavy gunfire at Palestinian houses, killing the Palestinian civilian, witnesses said.

The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) on Saturday announced its readiness to take control of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank city of Bethlehem areas where Israel occupation troops are expected to withdraw from.

"We are ready to deploy our troops and to take over the security responsibility in any place that the Israeli army will withdraw from,” PNA Minister of Information Nabil Amre said following a cabinet meeting held in Gaza.

The PNA further stressed that the Israeli proposed withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and Bethlehem Governorate in the West Bank should be complete and not partial.

Last week the PNA stressed further that the IOF withdrawal from Gaza and Bethlehem should be a first stage of a complete Israeli pullout from Palestinian territory the IOF reoccupied since September 2000, in compliance with the “roadmap” plan.

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