Abdel Aziz Rantissi, a hardliner who rejects all compromise with
Israel, was chosen as the new Hamas leader Tuesday, following the
assassination of the group's founder by Israel.
Mr. Rantissi told the Associated Press that he emerged from
secret elections as the overall chief of Hamas and was chosen to
head the group's political bureau, the main decisionmaking body.
Until now, the political bureau was led by Khaled Mashaal, a
Hamas operative based in Syria.
The announcement of Rantissi's election was made over loudspeaker
during a gathering of tens of thousands of Hamas supporters at a
soccer stadium in Gaza City, a day after Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed
Yassin was assassinated by Israel.
Rantissi said that Hamas would press for more attacks against
Israel. "We will be unified in the trenches of resistance," he said.
"We will not surrender, we will never surrender to Israeli terror."
Followers of Sheikh Yassin and his Muslim militant group the
swift transition shows that Hamas is not a cult of personality which
will wither away now that its charismatic leader is dead. The
wheelchair-bound cleric carved out a persona that blurred the lines
between the bloody politics of suicide bombings and Islamic piety.
Israel has killed more than 20 Hamas operatives since last
September. And Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz declared Tuesday that
the Israeli military would try to eradicate the entire leadership of
Hamas, whose suicide bombing have killed about 400 Israelis over the
past three and a half years.
"Our leader is a system. It's a leadership by group, and anyone
can represent the desires of the group," says Mahmoud Zahar, a
senior official in Hamas and one of its founders, as he received a
stream of visitors at a massive mourning in a tent here Tuesday.
Nearby, official posters of Yassin offer sympathies from the
Palestinian Authority of Yasser Arafat, whose peace deals with
Israel in the 1990s put him at odds with Hamas's rejection of all
"There will be no vacuum in our organization," quips Mr. Zahar, a
short, bearded man who maintains a medical practice and had been
considered a strong candidate for ascendancy in Hamas. Israel, he
suggests, overestimated the tactical damage they could do to Hamas
by assassinating its chief leader. "Sheikh Yassin was absent for
many years while he was in jail, and Hamas was able to continue in
its activities," he says.
Israel has made it clear that the gloves are off. All Hamas
leaders are targets for assassination, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's
government has deemed. "Everyone is in our sights," Internal
Security Minister Tsahi Hanegbi told reporters Tuesday. "There is no
immunity for anyone."
But the death of Yassin, many analysts believe, will only serve
to increase the lure of Hamas and serve as a de facto recruitment
call for young Palestinians. …