- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 28, 2005

JERUSALEM — Hamas militants released a videotape yesterday purportedly showing a bomb maker thought to top Israel’s most-wanted list celebrating the Gaza Strip pullout as a victory for armed resistance.

Senior Hamas commander Mohammed Deif, who masterminded the deaths of dozens of Israelis in suicide bombings, also urged the destruction of the Jewish state.

It was the latest call for continued violence by Hamas officials as the group refocuses its armed struggle on the West Bank, where most of Israel’s 246,000 settlers live.

“You are leaving Gaza today in shame,” Mr. Deif said in comments directed toward Israel, which finished evacuating the last of its 21 Gaza settlements Monday.

“Today you are leaving hell,” he said. “But we promise you that tomorrow all Palestine will be hell for you, God willing.”

In the tape, Mr. Deif praised the armed struggle against Israel. Hamas has killed hundreds of Israelis since violence resumed in 2000.

“We did not achieve the liberation of the Gaza Strip without this holy war and this steadfastness,” he said, adding that attacks should continue until Israel is eradicated.

Israel’s obliteration is Hamas’ ultimate goal.

Mr. Deif, known for operating in the shadows, has eluded Israeli security forces for more than a decade, surviving at least two assassination attempts, including a 2002 missile attack in which he lost an eye.

There was no way to positively identify the figure on the videotape as Mr. Deif, because his face was in silhouette.

He has been in hiding since 1992 and the only known photos of him were taken in the 1980s.

But the high quality of the video, which was stamped with the logo of the Hamas military wing, as well as the similarity of the voice to previous recordings indicated the tape was authentic.

Hamas would not say when the tape was made, but it had boasted for nearly two weeks that Mr. Deif would make a public statement, and militants delivered the tape to Associated Press offices in Gaza City.

The group also posted a transcript of his comments on its Web site.

Gideon Meir, an Israeli Foreign Ministry senior official, said Mr. Deif’s comments threatened to sour the climate of good will that the Gaza pullout created.

“The disengagement opened a prospect of hope for the Palestinian people and Mohammed Deif is trying to spoil the show,” Mr. Meir said. “His declaration proves again why the Palestinian Authority must fulfill its duty and fight the Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.”

Separately, President Bush also called on the Palestinians to clamp down on militants after the Gaza pullout.

“The Palestinians must show the world that they will fight terrorism and govern in a peaceful way,” Mr. Bush said in his weekly radio address yesterday.

Hamas has scaled back its attacks since the truce declaration, but Israel says the group is using the lull to rearm.

Israel has said any resumption of peace talks would depend on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ disarming Hamas and other militant groups.

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