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Israel: 'Road Map' Being Tested After Failed Assassination Bid Against Hamas Official

Prague, 10 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The internationally backed "road map" for peace in the Middle East is being tested, once again, after a failed assassination attempt by Israel against a well-known figure in the Islamic militant group Hamas.

Abdul Aziz al-Rantisi, political leader of Hamas in the Palestinian territories, was injured when Israeli helicopter gunships fired missiles at his jeep today on a busy thoroughfare in Gaza City.

Witnesses told reporters that the first missile missed al-Rantisi's vehicle, and that he managed to run from the jeep just seconds before a direct hit by a second missile.

Hamas official Ismail Haniyeh told Al-Jazeera television that al-Rantisi is in "stable" condition at Shifa Hospital after undergoing surgery on his leg. Doctors at Shifa Hospital confirmed that al-Rantisi is in good condition and recovering after surgery to remove a piece of shrapnel from his thigh.

Al-Rantisi later told jounalists that Hamas will maintain its jihad and resistance until every "Zionist" is kicked out of Palestinian lands.

The 55-year-old is one of the most prominent members of Hamas to be targeted by Israel since the start of the intifada in September 2000. He is considered to be a hard-liner and has previously voiced opposition to the road map.

A Reuters television crew documented today's daylight attack by the Israeli helicopter gunships. That camera team also captured images of the chaos on the streets of Gaza City that followed:

Hospital officials say two Palestinian passers-by -- a woman and an 8-year-old girl -- were killed by the Israeli missiles. They say as many as 33 other people were injured.

Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar has promised that Israel will receive "severe punishment." Zahar said the response from Hamas will be "like an earthquake" and that the Palestinian people will "commit to the map of holy war."

Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Amr called the attack a "stupid act" that will have "completely counterproductive results" and lead to more retaliation.

Israeli officials have declined to offer any immediate comment.

Palestinian cabinet minister Yasser Abed Rabbo is among the Palestinian officials who are accusing Israel of trying to destroy the peace plan formally launched by U.S. President George W. Bush at a Mideast summit last week:

"This attack today in Gaza aims at the destruction of the 'road map' and of the efforts exerted by Mr. Bush and his administration in order to start the process of implementing the 'road map.'"

The peace plan calls for the disarming of Palestinian militant groups in order to clear the way for the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005. It also calls for the Israeli government to dismantle illegal Jewish settlements on land that Israeli forces have occupied since 1967.

Today's attack came just as some Hamas leaders were saying they would consider talks with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas about the possibility of signing a truce with Israel.

Rabbo said Abbas now faces a daunting task in order to win acceptance from Palestinians for such a truce.

"This attack is directed against the efforts of the Palestinian government to pacify the conditions on the ground and to start Palestinian dialogue with Hamas and other factions in order to have a Palestinian unanimous position concerning the cease-fire and the truce so that we will be able to implement all our commitments that are included in the road map," Rabbo said.

Correspondents also say today's attack undercuts an already shaky position for Abbas, who has been criticized by Palestinians for pledging to end the intifada while getting little in return from Israel.

On 8 June, Hamas and two other militant groups joined forces in a shooting attack that killed four Israeli soldiers at an army outpost in Gaza. Such attacks have killed nearly 800 Israelis since September 2000. More than 2,300 Palestinians have died in Israeli crackdowns during the same period.