GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — An Israeli aircraft fired two
missiles at a car traveling in the Gaza Strip late yesterday,
killing a senior Hamas commander who topped the government’s
most-wanted list for years — the latest in a series of
Israeli assassinations that have weakened the militant group.

Adnan al-Ghoul, a founder and the No. 2 figure of Hamas’s
military wing, was killed along with a second unidentified occupant
in the car. The airstrike dealt another heavy blow to Hamas’s
military wing, Izzedine al Qassam, which is responsible for attacks
that have killed hundreds of Israelis during four years of
fighting.

“It’s a new crime committed by the Zionist
occupation government against one of the leaders of the Palestinian
resistance,” Hamas spokesman Musher al-Masri said.

Hamas officials said Al-Ghoul, 46, was a top bomb maker who
masterminded the development of homemade Qassam rockets and
anti-tank missiles. Palestinian militants frequently launch the
rockets into southern Israel, and Israel recently completed a broad
offensive into Gaza aimed at stopping the attacks.

Gaza has experienced an upsurge in violence since Israeli Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon announced plans earlier this year to pull out
of the volatile area. Both Israel and militants want to claim
victory ahead of the withdrawal.

Sharon is planning to present his Gaza withdrawal plan to the
Israeli parliament for a vote of approval next week. Aides to the
prime minister said yesterday that he has locked up enough support
to win that vote, but is deeply concerned about growing fissures
within the ruling Likud Party over the plan.

The Israeli airstrike took place north of Gaza City as dozens of
people left a nearby mosque following evening prayers. Upon news of
al-Ghoul’s death, thousands of angry Hamas supporters took to
the streets in several refugee camps, calling for revenge and
chanting anti-Israel slogans.

Al-Ghoul’s death leaves Hamas military leadership in the
hands of Mohammed Deif, its longtime chief. Both men have long
topped Israel’s wanted list and operated from hiding for
years. They both escaped a September 2003 airstrike aimed at a
gathering of Hamas leaders in Gaza.

Since then, however, Israel has assassinated a number of top
Hamas officials, including the group’s spiritual leader,
Sheik Ahmed Yassin, and his successor, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, weeks
apart earlier this year.

A top Hamas leader based in Damascus, Syria, was killed in a car
bombing last month. Israeli officials acknowledged involvement.
Most of the Hamas’s leaders in Gaza remain in hiding.

The Israeli army issued a statement describing al-Ghoul as a
“leading Hamas figure” responsible for the deaths of
dozens of Israelis. It said he had produced Qassam rockets, which
have killed three people in recent months, masterminded at least
two suicide bombings, and developed anti-tank and anti-aircraft
weapons.

Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat condemned
yesterday’s killing, which he said “reflects the
determination of the Israeli government to continue the path of
military solutions rather than negotiations.”

Sharon is planning to withdraw from Gaza, where 8,000 Jewish
settlers live among 1.3 million Palestinians, next year. He says a
continued Israeli presence in the crowded, impoverished Gaza Strip
is unrealistic.

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