Wednesday, September 10, 2003

A senior Israeli official said yesterday that the Hamas leadership had not authorized the bloody Aug. 19 suicide bombing that blew apart a fragile cease-fire.

Gideon Meir, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, also said Israel was receiving intelligence from within the top ranks of Hamas.

By taking responsibility for the Aug. 19 attack that was the work of an independent cell, Hamas had triggered an all-out war on leaders of the militant Islamist group, Mr. Meir said.

“We have no choice but to go after the head of the snake,” he told editors and reporters at The Washington Times.

The war continued yesterday with an Israeli missile attack on the two-story home of a top Hamas political official, which missed the target but killed his son and a bodyguard.

Early today, Israeli troops launched several raids into the West Bank and Gaza Strip, bulldozing as many as 15 houses, some belonging to Palestinian activists.

Until the Aug. 19 bus bombing in downtown Jerusalem, which killed 20 persons, including several children, some of the Hamas leaders were not considered targets by the Israelis, Mr. Meir said.

He said the order for the bombing came out of a Hebron cell of Hamas, without the authorization of the group leadership in Gaza or Damascus, Syria.

But, he said, “the fact that Hamas took all-out responsibility was very significant here.”

Israel responded by vowing to wipe out any and every member of the organization.

Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, narrowly escaped being killed Saturday when Israeli forces hit the apartment of another Hamas official, Marwan Abu Ras.

Mr. Meir said the attack “would not have happened if someone in the top leadership [of Hamas] wasn’t cooperating in giving information to Israel.”

In the past two days, back-to-back Palestinian suicide bombings have killed 15 Israelis.

Israel yesterday retaliated for the latest attacks by attempting to kill Mahmoud al-Zahar, co-founder of Hamas. Al-Zahar survived the attack on his home in Gaza City but his son and bodyguard were killed. The group has vowed revenge.

Israel has killed 12 Hamas members since the Aug. 19 bombing.

Hamas, as well as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, took responsibility for the explosion. Israeli security sources said at the time that the bomber was a member of Hamas.

“We don’t make a distinction between Hamas and Islamic Jihad. For us, it doesn’t matter who is taking responsibility, who is killing our children,” Mr. Meir said.

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