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Israel: Hamas Leadership in Syria Could be Targeted.

By Ha'aretz

Israel will consider attacking Hamas' compound in Damascus should the organization move its main power base to Syria following the assassinations of its former leaders, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi, in Gaza.

There is no proof at this stage that orders to carry out terror attacks are being delivered by Hamas leaders in Damascus to members of the organization in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. However, during meetings recently held by Israeli political and security officials, participants agreed that should intelligence information point to Damascus as Hamas' nerve center, the option of targeting the organization in Syria could be considered.

Given Hizbullah's increasing support for Palestinian terror, Israel also will consider attacking the organization's targets in Lebanon, according to Israeli sources.

Following the March 22 assassination of Yassin, his successor, Rantisi, deviated from Hamas policy and encouraged Hizbullah and Iran to become directly involved in the organization's terror activity. This was one of the reasons why Israel decided to assassinate him. Continued Hizbullah involvement in Palestinian terror would pose a serious risk to the lives of the Shi'ite organization's leaders, Israeli security officials have warned.

In principle, Dr. Mahmoud a-Zahar, who was considered Rantisi's deputy, is supposed to head the organization. However, Israeli intelligence officials have learned that a-Zahar has sent signals to fellow Hamas leaders both in Gaza and overseas, particularly Khaled Mashal, that he does not want the top post, and certainly does not want it to be made public.

Israeli officials assume that a-Zahar's reluctance is due to the killing of Yassin and Rantisi as well as an attempted assassination against him last summer in which he sustained injuries and one of his sons was killed.

Shortly after Saturday's assassination of Rantisi, Mashal announced that the identity of the new Hamas leader in Gaza would not be disclosed. In all likelihood, a collective leadership arrangement will materialize on the Gaza Strip that will include a-Zahar. Other prominent Hamas figures that might play a role in such a collective include Ismail Haniyeh, Sa'id Siam and Nizar I'an.

A top Israeli security official said Sunday that any figure that replaces Rantisi would be a potential assassination target. "Hamas, as a whole, is a ticking time bomb," the official said. "If they end the terror attacks, we'll end the activity against their leaders." Speaking at a Holocaust Day ceremony Sunday night, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said, "we will not cease to hunt down the killers of our children."

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Publication:Israel Faxx
Date:Apr 20, 2004
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