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Hamas leader killed in Israeli airstrike

Targeted killing follows deadly suicide bombing in Erez

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Abdel Aziz Rantizi was against compromise with Israel and a critic of the Palestinian Authority.

Early footage and reports of the attack against Rantisi.
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Abdel Aziz Rantisi

GAZA CITY (CNN) -- Abdel Aziz Rantisi, the leader of the militant group Hamas in Gaza, was killed Saturday in Gaza City by an Israeli missile strike, Israeli officials and Palestinian security sources said.

An Israeli helicopter launched the strike on Rantisi's car, the sources said, also killing two others -- one of them a bodyguard. Rantisi was taken to a hospital, where he died shortly afterward.

Rantisi was one of Hamas' most high profile figures, often speaking to international journalists, but he only assumed the mantle of the leader of Hamas in Gaza last month -- after Israel killed the group's founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

An Israeli Foreign Ministry official confirmed that the missile strike was a targeted killing.

"This evening, in a security forces operation in the Northern Gaza Strip, the IDF targeted a car carrying the leader of Hamas, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, who is directly responsible for the killing of scores of Israelis in numerous terror attacks," a statement from the Israel Defense Forces said.

A huge explosion was heard in Gaza City, and half of the city lost electricity.

Israeli Foreign Ministry official Gideon Meir said this was not the first time Israel has targeted Rantisi.

"We tried to do it a few months ago. At that time, he managed to run away. This time we got him," Meir said.

"Somebody who is sending suicide bombers to kill innocent Israelis is a legitimate target for the government of Israel," he told CNN.

Ten other people were injured, Palestinian medical sources said.

When news of the killing swept through the territory, thousands of Hamas activists spilled into the streets.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat condemned the killing, saying: "We hold the Israeli government fully responsible for the consequences of such actions.

"At the end of the day, violence will breed more violence, hatred will breed more hatred."

Rantisi was appointed to head Hamas in Gaza after the group's founder and spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, was killed last month in an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City.

The military wing of Hamas vowed to deliver 100 "unique" responses in retailiation and called all of its cells to be ready for the promised responses. The statement said the Palestinian people should not worry about there being a response but that it would take time to prepare it well.

Suicide attack

The strike came hours after a Palestinian suicide bomber launched an attack in the Erez industrial zone Saturday, killing a border police officer and wounding three others.

Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Hamas claimed responsibility for that attack.

An Al Aqsa spokesman identified the bomber as Fadi al-Amudi of Beit Lahaya, in northern Gaza near Erez. An Israeli army official said the bomber had worked in the zone for the past two years. He died at the scene.

A second attacker, from Hamas, tried but failed to enter the industrial zone, an Al Aqsa source said. The military said it knew nothing about a second bomber.

Hamas is a Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist organization whose military wing has admitted responsibility for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers. Al Aqsa is a military offshoot of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement that has attacked military and civilian targets in Israel, and in Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. Both are considered terrorist organizations by Israel and teh United States.

There is heavy security around the busy industrial area, where the bomber detonated explosives at an entrance where the workers are checked before they can go to their jobs.

At least 2,900 entered Erez on Saturday. The zone was closed as a result of the bombing, and it is not known when it will reopen. Many Palestinians work there.

The Erez industrial zone was closed for several days in January after a female suicide bomber killed four Israelis at a checkpoint there. Ten other people were wounded in that blast.

The attack came three days after President Bush met with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Washington.

In that meeting, Bush endorsed Sharon's plan to withdraw all Jewish settlements and troops from Gaza and all but six blocs of Jewish settlements from the West Bank. (Full story)

Thursday, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat rejected the plan. (Full story)

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