GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Hamas will not target Americans, despite a veiled threat issued this week after Israeli forces killed a top cleric, senior leaders of the Palestinian militant group said yesterday. But another Hamas official warned that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was in their sights.
"The Israelis, those occupying our land, are targets, but no one from Hamas will target Americans," Abdel Aziz Rantisi said yesterday as he sat in a tent with hundreds of Palestinians marking the third and final day of mourning for Sheik Ahmed Yassin. On Tuesday, Rantisi was named to replace Yassin as Hamas' leader in the Gaza Strip, the group's top post.
Mahmoud Zahar, another senior figure, said the movement has its differences with the U.S. administration but not with the American people. "Considering American targets is not our style, and anyway we don't have the capacity," he said.
On Monday, the military wing of Hamas issued a statement charging U.S. complicity in Yassin's death. "The Zionists didn't carry out their operation without the consent of the terrorist American administration, and it must bear responsibility for this crime," the statement said, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. "All the Muslims of the world will be honored to join in the retaliation for this crime."
U.S. officials have denied advance knowledge of the killing.Khaled Meshaal, Hamas' exiled political chief in Damascus, Syria, was quoted yesterday by the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat as saying that the killing of Yassin has given Hamas the right to "hunt down the big Zionist heads," including Sharon. But the final decision would be up to the military wing of Hamas, he added.
In other developments, a Palestinian boy was arrested yesterday near the West Bank city of Nablus, wearing an explosives-laden vest as he approached an Israeli army checkpoint.
A military spokesman said investigators believed the boy, whose age was variously given as 12, 14 or 16, meant to detonate the explosives at the site, where an estimated 200 Palestinians were waiting to cross.
An officer at the scene told Army Radio that the boy had received about $25 to carry out the attack.
Physicians for Human Rights-Israel issued a statement condemning the use of children to carry out suicide attacks. "For too long, children on both sides have been victims of this armed conflict, due to the disregard toward their lives on both sides," the group said.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.