CNN BREAKING NEWS
Deadly Attack in Gaza City
Aired June 10, 2003 - 05:04 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: As we told you at the top of our show, there is breaking news in the Middle East this morning. A deadly attack in Gaza City. Just about an hour ago, an Israeli gunship fired rockets on the city. Sources say a leading militant Hamas leader was the tonight. Let's get the very latest from CNN's Jerrold Kessel. He joins us live from Jerusalem -- who was targeted, Jerrold?
JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Carol, good morning.
It was Abdel-Azizi Al-Rantissi, by all accounts. That's a leading spokesman and very much one of the prominent public faces of the militant Islamic group Hamas. He was in his car driving in the center of Gaza City. But the latest reports, although there have been reports that he was killed, the latest reports from doctors at Shifa Hospital is that Mr. Rantissi has survived this attack by the Israeli helicopter gunship. He is wounded, among more than 20 people wounded, and according to doctors at Shifa Hospital, two people were killed in this deadly Israeli strike.
It's the first attack of its kind carried out by Israel. What's it's called throughout the two and half years of the intifada uprising, a targeted assassination, targeted killing of top militants. But this, you could say, one of the first, or the first time that they've gone after a public, one of the public faces of Hamas, not one of its affirmed members of its military wing, Izz a-Din el-Kassam.
But Abdul Aziz-Rantissi seems to have survived this attack. But despite that, it is a major escalation in the battle between Israel and the Palestinian militants, you could say also between Israel and the Palestinians as a whole, and it certainly will complicate the efforts of the Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, to talk Hamas and the other militant groups into accepting the need for a cease-fire and to ending their armed operations and their attacks against Israelis.
It is a blow to those efforts, no doubt, of Mahmoud Abbas, since that he's been -- that he's vowed to do since the Aqaba summit -- Carol.
COSTELLO: And you can understand why, from the Palestinian perspective, Jerrold, because helicopters fired down on two cars on the ground. One other person, I understand, was killed and others were injured, correct?
KESSEL: Yes. The latest we've heard, in fact, there are two people dead. That was the word we had from our producer, CNN producer quoting doctors at the Shifa Hospital. More than 20 wounded. Among them, Mr. Rantissi himself.
But clearly this has ramifications beyond the ongoing battle and it certainly escalates that battle that's ongoing between Israel and the Palestinian militants.
Mr. Rantissi, I should stress, has been a hard-liner in Hamas's position. Whether he is only a political leader or has influence over the military wing, that will remain in doubt and a gray area, but certainly he's taken a very hard line on the need to go on with what Hamas calls the resistance, with the attacks against Israeli and also been very strong in condemning the position taken by the Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who he said was being much too conciliatory, much too concerned with the Israeli needs and U.S. dictates rather than Palestinian interests -- Carol.
COSTELLO: I'm going to ask you to speculate just a bit, Jerrold, if you would. You said this is the first time the Israelis have targeted the public face of Hamas. Why do you suppose they did that at this time?
KESSEL: Yes, that's a big question, because this peace initiative that was formally launched with such fanfare by President Bush with -- at Aqaba last week with the two prime ministers singing on so firmly, Ariel Sharon and the Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas. And yesterday, over the last couple of days, let's not forget that Hamas, together with two other militant groups, carried out a very deadly attack on Israeli soldiers not far away, at the Gaza crossing point areas, killing four soldiers on Sunday.
Israel didn't seem to respond to that. It seemed that both the Israelis and the Palestinian, the Israeli prime minister and the Palestinian prime minister were keeping firm to that, staying the course with what President Bush had set in motion, that peace initiative.
Now, it seems the Israelis have changed direction a little bit. They'd say no, this is still the battle against terror. But it does, it does undercut that initiative.
Now, why has Ariel Sharon and the Israeli leadership gone for this? It could be as a demonstration both to their own people -- Mr. Sharon has been under criticism for giving in to terror -- and to the Palestinians that he's not going soft on what he calls terror, he will go on battling the militants even as he tries to go down the peace road.
It could be a dual message, Carol. But clearly we'll wait to see what the Israelis have to say about this.
As of this time, an hour after the incident, still no word from the Israeli military or the Israeli politicians and leadership -- Carol.
COSTELLO: But I'm sure you'll be seeking them out.
Jerrold Kessel live from Jerusalem. Thanks for that update this morning.
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