Israel Assassinates Hamas Leader After 2 Hamas Attacks Kill 18 Israelis

Israel has denied that its assassination of a senior Hamas political leader represents an escalation of its war on terror.

Just the same, the killing of Ibrahim Makadme, one of the founders of Hamas, in a helicopter missile strike Saturday in the Gaza Strip, could lead to an escalation of Palestinian terror.

Indeed, Hamas declared Israeli leaders “open targets” after Saturday’s assassination.

In the wake of the Hamas threat, security was tightened around senior Israeli officials.

The developments took place during a weekend when the Palestinians took the first tentative steps toward creating the post of prime minister.

Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat named his deputy to the post, but it remains to be seen whether a Palestinian prime minister will have any real powers.

Makadme and three other Hamas members were killed when the missile struck their car.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz described Makadme as the “ultimate arch-terrorist” and vowed that Israel would target more terrorist leaders.

“None of the heads of terrorism, with an emphasis on Hamas, is immune,” he told Army Radio. “Israel will put its hands on everyone that is involved in terror, anyone who dispatches terrorists with the goal of killing innocent Israelis.”

Mofaz denied, however, that targeting Makadme raised the level of Israel’s anti-terror operations.

“There is no escalation here,” he said. “The test is simple: involvement in terror.

Israel Radio quoted sources in Jerusalem as saying that the decision to kill Makadme had been made a long time ago, but was put off several times in order to avoid hurting innocent civilians.

Saturday’s operation followed a week of Palestinian terror attacks that killed 18 Israelis.

On March 5, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives aboard a Haifa bus. Fifteen people died in the attack. On Saturday, the toll rose to 16 when one of the victims succumbed to his injuries.

In a second attack, two Israelis were killed last Friday night by two gunmen who infiltrated the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba.

The gunmen entered a home while the family was celebrating Shabbat and opened fire.

The dead were later identified as a husband and wife, Rabbi Eli and Dina Horowitz. Five others were wounded before the terrorists were killed by Israeli troops.

An explosives belt was found on the body of one of the terrorists.

Hamas claimed responsibility for both attacks.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told the weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday that the two attacks should give the world an idea of the kind of enemy Israel is up against.

In recent days, Israel has come under criticism from the United States, Britain and the European Union for the toll of Palestinian civilian casualties from Israel’s anti-terror operations in the Gaza Strip.

Regarding one debated incident, Mofaz told the Cabinet on Sunday that the deaths of eight Palestinians in Gaza last week were caused by a Palestinian bomb that went off near them — not by an Israeli tank shell, as the Palestinians had claimed.

The eight were killed March 6 as Israeli troops were withdrawing from the Jabalya refugee camp at the end of a military operation ordered in response to the Haifa bus bombing.

Last Friday, in what was widely described as a significant ratcheting up of Israel’s Gaza operations, soldiers took up positions in northern Gaza after Palestinians repeatedly fired rockets from the area in recent weeks on the nearby Israeli town of Sderot.

Just the same, Palestinians launched four more rockets Sunday at Sderot, but caused no injuries or damage.

In other developments, Israeli troops demolished the homes of the two Hamas gunmen who carried out last Friday night’s attack in Kiryat Arba.

Troops also destroyed the home of the suicide bomber who carried out the Haifa attack.

In another development whose significance has yet to be seen, Arafat chose his longtime No. 2 at the PLO, Mahmoud Abbas, to serve as prime minister.

Abbas, 68, also known as Abu Mazen, is considered less hard-line than Arafat.

On Saturday, the PLO’s 122-member Central Council formally decided during a late-night session to create the post of prime minister.

Abbas said that he would have to know how much power the new prime minister will have before deciding whether to take the post.

On Sunday, Sharon welcomed the naming of Abbas, but added that Israel would “closely examine the extent of authority he is given.”

The Palestinian legislative council must still approve the creation of the position and define its responsibilities.

While Abbas is considered a relative moderate among the top Palestinian hierarchy, there are also reports saying he wrote a 1982 doctoral dissertation and a study two years later about purported secret links between the Nazis and Zionist leaders.

In his writings, according to the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute, Abbas argued that Zionist officials collaborated with the Nazis in order to create a situation in which all the world would agree on the necessity of a Jewish homeland.

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