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Attack Kills Hamas Leader; Groups Renounce Cease Fire

By James Bennet

The New York Times -- GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip

The Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad officially declared an end to their seven-week-old cease-fire on Thursday, shortly after an Israeli helicopter strike killed a senior Hamas leader in Gaza City.

The Hamas leader, Ismail Abu Shanab, died along with two bodyguards when their sedan was struck in a barrage of six missiles fired by at least one Apache helicopter, witnesses said. Seventeen people were wounded in the barrage, including several employees of the Gaza governor. Shanab, who was educated in Vermont and Texas, was considered one of the most pragmatic of the Hamas leaders.

Hamas, which claimed responsibility for the suicide bus bombing in Jerusalem two days ago that killed 20 people, threatened retaliation for the missile strike.

“It is jihad until victory or martyrdom,” Hamas said in a statement officially announcing its abandonment of the cease-fire, which Palestinian militant factions, under international pressure, declared on June 29 to advance the American-backed peace plan, known as the road map.

Muhammad al-Hindi, a top leader of Islamic Jihad in Gaza, also swore to avenge the attack. “This will achieve nothing but to strengthen us to keep our jihad,” he said. Then, referring to the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, he added, “Sharon, and not us, made the truce fail.”

The events on Thursday followed Israeli raids on three West Bank cities overnight and the reinforcement of Israeli positions around Ramallah, also in the West Bank. Those deployments were intended to ratchet up pressure on the Palestinian leadership to strike against the militant groups.

An official from Israel’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that Israel had felt compelled to launch the missile strike because, in Israel’s estimation, the Palestinian Authority had not cracked down on militant groups.

“The Palestinian Authority must make up its mind: Do they want peace with terrorist organizations or peace with Israel?” the official, Gideon Meir, the deputy director general of the Foreign Ministry, said on CNN. “It doesn’t go hand in hand.”

He added: “There was never a truce. To kill 20 innocent Israelis, to blow up a bus in the center of a city like Jerusalem, is this part of a truce? What is it?”

A Palestinian official said that the Palestinian Authority had been preparing a “massive campaign against Hamas and Islamic Jihad,” including arrests, the closing of some institutions and the replacement of the leadership of others as well as the collection of weapons.

In a statement, the Palestinian prime minister, Mamoud Abbas, denounced the killings in Gaza on Thursday as an “ugly crime.”

“We strongly condemn this action because it does not serve peace,” he said in Ramallah, according to Reuters. “Such operations negatively affect all the plans that the Palestinian Authority is undertaking.”