Hamas chief in hiding, fears attack by Israel, says source

Other News Materials 11 February 2008 15:34 (UTC +04:00)

( dpa ) - Hamas leader Ismail Haniya has evacuated his office building and gone into hiding for fear of being targeted by Israel, a source in his staff who asked not to be identified told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa Monday.

There was also no reply at his office when dpa tried to call.

The move came as Israel threatened to step up its targeted killings of militants and their leaders behind daily rocket attacks, and after an eight-year-old Israeli child lost his leg Sunday in one such attack.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak instructed the Israeli military to expand its lists of targets, adding new, more senior names not formerly included, mainly from Hamas' military wing, defence officials said.

They did not say this included also Haniya, who heads Hamas' political wing and has continued to call himself prime minister in Gaza despite his dismissal by President Mahmoud Abbas following the June take-over of the Gaza Strip by the radical Islamic movement.

A senior Israeli minister Monday declined to rule out Haniya could be a target.

"Any Palestinian who is involved directly or indirectly in trying to kill any Israeli civilian is a target from our point of view," Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon told foreign correspondents in Jerusalem.

"Political leaders are normally not involved in terrorism. If they are engaged in terrorism, they are not political leaders," said Ramon, a close confident to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The rocket launchers are "war criminals," Ramon charged, adding, "their only purpose is killing civilians."

He spoke after the Israeli child lost his leg following Saturday night's rocket attack from Gaza at the Israeli town of Sderot, just north-east of Gaza. His 19-year-old brother had also been injured.

Militants of Hamas and other groups have launched at least 134 Gaza-made rockets and mortar shells at Israel since an Israeli airstrike on their southern Gaza station killed seven Hamas policemen last Tuesday.

The airstrike had been in retaliation for more rocket attacks, and also came a day after Hamas, for the first time in more than three years, launched a suicide bombing in Israel, which killed an Israeli woman in the southern desert town of Dimona.

Meanwhile, two more Palestinians - a civilian and a militant of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) died after two airstrikes in eastern and north of Gaza City late Sunday.

The PFLP member died Monday morning of wounds sustained in the Sunday afternoon airstrike in eastern Gaza City. The civilian was killed in an airstrike in the Jabaliya refugee camp Sunday night.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri warned Monday that Israel would pay an "unprecedented" price for any "stupid act it may commit," and if it targeted senior Hamas leaders.

"We will resort to all means," he told reporters in Gaza.

Abu Zurhi conceded Hamas' leadership had taken "tight security measures," but added these measures "won't cause our leaders to be absent from their role in any way."

Scores of residents from Sderot and supporters blocked Tel Aviv's main Ayalon highway Monday morning to protest the daily rocket attacks on their town.