GAZA, April 19 (Xinhuanet) -- Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) appointed on Sunday a new leader in the Gaza Strip to replace Abdel Aziz Rantisi, who was killed by Israeli missiles on Saturday, while Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon vowed to continue hunting down Hamas leaders.
Hamas said in a statement that it decided not to reveal the new leader' name for security reasons. The decision was made after top Hamas leaders Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Rantisi were assassinated by Israel within one month.
Abdel Aziz Rantisi (Xinhua Photo/File)
Israel's Army Radio said the successor to Rantisi is Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas leader who escaped an Israeli assassination attempt last year. But Hamas refused to comment on the report.
Palestinian sources said besides Zahar, Yassin's former assistant Ismail Haniyah is another possible successor to Rantisi.
Rantisi was nominated as the Hamas leader on March 24 after Hamas spiritual leader Yassin was assassinated in an Israeli airstrike on March 22.
Following the assassination of Rantisi, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei said that the assassination was a "direct result of America's encouragement and total bias towards Israel."
Palestinian Labor Minister Ghassan Al-Khatib also described on Sunday the assassination as a result of Sharon's recent visit to Washington.
Al-Khatib warned on Sharon's coming plans of mounting his threats to liquidate Palestinians leaders, particularly Yasser Arafat, calling on the international community to immediately intervene to end these threats.
He asserted the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) is adopting a series of necessary measures to avert any Israeli attack against Arafat.
Rantisi was killed just three days after Sharon visited the United States and won US President George W. Bush's endorsement for his unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
However, US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice denied on Sunday that Bush gave Sharon "green light" to assassinate Rantisi and said the timing of Israel's assassination was not helpful.
"We have said repeatedly to the Israelis that while we understand and support Israel's right to defend itself, it is extremely important that Israel take into consideration the consequences of anything that it does," Rice said.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians on Sunday flooded the streets in the Gaza city to attended the funeral of Rantisi, calling for revenge Rantisi's death.
The mourners toured the city's streets while masked militants marching in front of Rantisi's body fired bullets in the air as a sign of protest and chanted anti-Israel slogans that pledged for aharsh response. Crowds of Palestinian men, women and even children were chanting slogans that praised the courage of Rantisi.
Israeli soldiers killed one protesting Palestinian and wounded several others during dozens of clashes in the West Bank on Sunday,hospital officials said.
The Hamas has threatened "100 unique reprisals" against Israel for killing its leader.
Sharon on Sunday praised the "successful" target assassination of Rantisi and vowed to continue killing other Hamas leaders aheadof Israel's unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
"This policy of making an effort on the one hand to advance a political process and on the other hand to hit the terror organizations and their leaders will continue," Sharon said.
Meanwhile, Israeli Cabinet Minister Gideon Ezra warned that Khaled Mashaal, the overall head of Hamas who is living in Damascus, will also be targeted.
The assassination of Rantisi triggered a worldwide condemnationagainst Israel.
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami on Sunday condemned the killing and said Israeli was the major cause of the violence and insecurity of the region. Iranian Parliament and Foreign Ministry also criticized Israel for the incident.
Kuwaiti cabinet strongly condemned the killing, describing it as "terror action" and "criminal practices against the rights of the Palestinian people."
Turkish Foreign Ministry said the killing was illegal acts and will increase violence and conflict in the region.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan condemned on Saturday Israel's assassination and called on Israel to put an endto such extrajudicial killings.
China, Russia, France, Greece, Japan, Sweden, Britain, Australia, Malaysia, Syria, Yemeni, Algeria, Libya and some other countries have condemned Israel's assassination. Enditem
Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi