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Israel's assassins ignore world backlash By Ross Dunn, Herald Correspondent in Jerusalem
Israel is determined to continue assassinating Palestinian militant leaders, calling them the "snake heads of terrorism", ignoring international criticism of the strategy and the danger of revenge attacks.
The policy has been strongly criticised by the United States, Britain and Russia.
A US State Department spokesman said such killings were "reprehensible and could not be justified".
The Israeli strategy was demonstrated to deadly effect on Tuesday with the killing of eight Palestinians in the West Bank city of Nablus, including two leaders of Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement.
More than 100,000 angry Palestinians marched through Nablus yesterdayfor the funerals of the eight, including two children who were the unintended victims of the helicopter strike.
Firing guns into the air and shouting for a holy war against Israel, the crowd marched behind the bodies, which were draped in Palestinian flags.
The passionate speeches, and an explosion that ripped through a parking lot outside a luxurious Jerusalem hotel, reinforced growing fears that Israel might reap a violent response from its offensive against the militants.
Nobody was hurt in the blast, but it was thought to be the first of a wave of bombings planned by Palestinian groups.
A Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Mr Abdel Aziz Rantissi, said its military wing had been told to unleash assassins against Israeli political leaders.
But the Israeli Defence Minister, Mr Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, said the Nablus attack had been a devastating blow to Hamas that had weakened its ability to launch attacks.
He claimed that the Hamas headquarters in Nablus hit by the strike had been the operations base for terror attacks.
The killing of Mr Jamal Mansour, effectively the Hamas deputy leader, and his aide Mr Jamil Salim had destroyed the leadership that had been blamed for the killing of 37 Israelis in 10 suicide bombings, including one outside a Tel Aviv disco.
"We are talking about headquarters from which many dozens of terror attacks were launched," Mr Ben-Eliezer said.
Israel has long been criticised for targeting Palestinians suspected of being behind attacks but the Nablus operation went further.
"This wasn't just another assassination," a senior Israeli Army officer told the Hebrew daily Ha'aret. "And Jamal Mansour was not just another wanted man. He was more senior than all the other activists killed until now.
"This was perhaps the harshest strike since the beginning of the intifada [the Palestinian uprising that began last September]."
The Nablus attack was approved after a number of unsuccessful Palestinian bombings prompted the Israeli military to believe that a terrorist campaign was under way, with Jerusalem as its main target.
Tel Aviv's assassination policy has also sparked a witch hunt among Palestinians for local informers who may have helped the Israelis.
The Palestinian Authority acted swiftly in a bid to contain rage and suspicion.
In a strong warning to other collaborators, three Palestinian men were sentenced to death for their part in the assassination of Mr Thabet Thabet in Tulkarem, also in the West Bank. A fourth was sentenced to 15 years in jail.
Mr Thabet was a leader of the Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organisation controlled by the Palestinian leader, Mr Yasser Arafat.
The verdict was greeted with wild applause by the crowd in the Palestinian security courtroom. The trial had been speeded up because of Israel's attack in Nablus.
"We were obliged to make it because of what happened here with the Israeli raid," said the Palestinian Governor of Nablus, Mr Mahmoud Aloul.
"The harsh sentences will surely deter other collaborators from co-operating with Israeli intelligence services."
Mr Arafat must still ratify the death sentences and although he has approved capital punishment in the past, he has blocked some executions in the face of international criticism.
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), August 02, 2001
Well Mr. Dunn, what would you suggest if this were occuring in your backyard,especially after you made a similar offer under Barak? Would you respond in kind car bomb for car bomb thereby killing innocent people, go after the perpetrators, or invade Palestine to drive out the PA? They ought to try what the British did to quell terrorism prior to 1948, wrap the terrorists remains in pigskin, thereby precluding them, according to what I hear, from entering their alleged heaven.
-- Steve McClendon (firstname.lastname@example.org), August 02, 2001.