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Israel vows to kill more militant leaders
Updated: 2004-03-24 08:55

Israel vowed to kill more top Palestinian militants following Ahmed Yassin's assassination and Hamas named a new leader for Gaza seen as a hard-liner even within a group that uses suicide bombing as its main weapon.

While security forces were on high alert in Israeli cities for the painful payback Hamas has promised, violence mounted on the Israel-Lebanon border, where Israeli aircraft killed two members of a Palestinian rocket-launching squad on Tuesday.

About 10 Israeli tanks moved to the edge of Khan Younis refugee camp in the Gaza strip in the early hours of Wednesday and took up what witnesses described as holding positions. There were no immediate reports of shooting/violence.

U.S. President Bush, in his first personal remarks on Monday's killing of Yassin defended what he called Israel's right to defend itself against terror but also injected a note of caution.

"And as she does so, I hope she keeps consequences in mind as to how to make sure we stay on the path to peace," he said.

The U.N. Security Council, after Arab ambassadors failed to reach agreement with the United States on a statement criticizing Israel, decided to hold an open debate on Tuesday on the killing of the wheelchair-bound Yassin.

Some Palestinians had considered Yassin a relative moderate inside Hamas, but Israel regarded him as the "Palestinian bin Laden."


Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Israel would keep up pressure on Hamas, a group dedicated to its destruction.

"If we will continue, in a determined way, with our strikes against Hamas and other terror groups...including action against those leaders, we will bring more security to Israeli citizens," he said.

Sources in Hamas said it appointed a supreme leader and a new chief for the Gaza Strip to replace Yassin.

Both Khaled Meshaal, believed by Israel to be in Syria, and Gaza-based Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi are opposed to any accommodation with the Jewish state.

Both have survived Israeli attempts on their lives and Israel has accused them of directing attacks on its citizens.

"We will fight them everywhere. We will hit them everywhere. We will chase them everywhere. We will teach them lessons in confrontation," Rantissi told supporters in his first public remarks after his appointment.

Rantissi's firebrand approach has won him many admirers among a Palestinian younger generation increasingly radicalized by Israel's crackdown in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since an uprising began in 2000.

The killing of Yassin appeared to be part of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's bid to smash the most potent Palestinian militant group to prevent it claiming victory if he goes ahead with a planned pullout of settlers from Gaza.

Under a go-it-alone plan if a U.S.-backed peace "road map" remains stalled amid violence, Sharon has also threatened to draw a "security line" in the West Bank that would leave the Palestinians with less land than they seek for a state.

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