JERUSALEM (AP) — For more than a decade, Abdel Aziz Rantisi — a doctor and sometime poet — has been the most recognizable voice of Hamas.
The 55-year-old pediatrician, who was wounded in an Israeli missile strike yesterday, has issued fiery calls for deadly attacks on Israelis and is an outspoken critic of any Hamas cease-fire.
In 1987, Mr. Rantisi was one of six men who founded Hamas, which became one of the region’s largest militant Islamic groups. Its ideology calls for a Muslim Middle East without an independent Jewish state — Israel.
Hamas pioneered suicide bombings in Israel in the early 1990s. Over the past 32 months, the group has killed hundreds of Israelis with suicide bombings, remote-controlled bombs and rifle attacks.
The fourth of 12 children, Mr. Rantisi was born Oct. 23, 1947, in Yibnah, now the Israeli town of Yavneh.
When he was 6 months old, his parents fled fighting accompanying Israel’s 1948 creation and took him to the Gaza Strip, then part of Egypt, where they settled in the impoverished Khan Younis refugee camp.
He traveled to Alexandria, Egypt, after high school and studied pediatrics, later working at a hospital in Gaza and earning a degree in medicine.
After the founding of Hamas, Mr. Rantisi was the first of the group’s leaders to be arrested by Israel. In and out of Israeli custody several times, he spent more than seven years behind bars altogether.
During one confinement, he shared a cell with Hamas’ spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin and memorized the Koran — 600 pages in most standard editions.
In prison, he used empty milk, toothbrush and cigarette cartons — though he’s a nonsmoker — to construct a model of Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque, which still sits, colorfully painted, on a table in his Gaza City living room.
Israel sent Mr. Rantisi and more than 400 other Hamas members into temporary exile in Lebanon in 1992 after the killing of an Israeli soldier. Mr. Rantisi became internationally known there, using his fluent English to speak for the deportees.
Appearing at the head of Gaza street marches in his gold-framed tinted glasses, Mr. Rantisi now often serves as a spokesman for Hamas.
Hamas considers Mr. Rantisi a political leader. But Israeli security sources say he sets the policy of operations against Israel and is responsible for recruiting Arab Israelis for attacks. Israeli government spokesman Ranaan Gissin said Mr. Rantisi masterminded an attack Sunday that killed four Israeli soldiers.
Mr. Rantisi has six children and 10 grandchildren. He has written poetry for one of them, a girl named Assma.