Israel Issues Ultimatum

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Israel plans to kill more militant chiefs in raids mirroring a lethal missile strike on a top Hamas leader, Israeli officials warned Friday, as thousands of Palestinians at his funeral promised thunderous revenge.

However, Israel has decided to give the Palestinian Authority 24 hours to confront the terror organizations, Haaretz newspaper reported.

Osama El-Baz, the political advisor to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, was meeting with Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat in Ramallah on Friday morning, and was to meet with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom later in the day.

El-Baz has brought Arafat a letter from Mubarak, and is expected to press the PA to take immediate action against the militant Palestinian groups, Israeli media reported.

Palestinian leaders said Thursday's killing of Ismail Abu Shanab, a top aide to Hamas chief Ahmed Yassin, ruined what was to be an imminent campaign against militants by Palestinian security forces that would have included arrests and weapons roundups.

The militants called off their two-month-old cease-fire and promised more suicide bombings and other attacks on Israeli targets, raising the chances that a new round of Mideast violence will sink a U.S.-backed peace plan that aims to stop three years of violence and create a Palestinian state.

Hamas quickly dispatched squads of young activists in Gaza to launch homemade rockets into Israel. By Friday morning, six of the crude projectiles had been fired, damaging two houses but causing no injuries. More than a dozen mortars were also launched at Jewish settlements within Gaza, damaging another house.

Several high-ranking Israeli military officials said on condition of anonymity that there were plans to kill other top Hamas leaders if there are new Palestinian suicide attacks and no efforts by Palestinian police forces to arrest extremists.

Speaking at the funeral of Abu Shanab, another Hamas leader, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, who survived an Israeli rocket attack on his car in June, said that if the Israelis kill him and other top militants, a secret leadership is ready to take over.

"They think that targeting leaders will stop Jihad (holy war). They are mistaken," he said. "All of us in Hamas from top to bottom are looking to become like Abu Shanab."

A Palestinian suicide bombing on a Jerusalem bus on Tuesday killed 20 people, including six children, prompting Israel's strike on Abu Shanab, a 53-year-old Hamas leader and U.S.-educated civil engineer.

An Israeli security source said all Hamas leaders were now considered fair targets and new strikes would be launched after a 24-hour lull to give Palestinians a chance to act on their own against militants. "We were waiting to see even just one Hamas arrest," he said.

Under the "road map" peace plan , launched on June 4, the Palestinians are required to dismantle Islamic and other militant groups.

After Tuesday's suicide attack in Jerusalem, aides to Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas said for the first time that he would go after militants, something he had previously rejected for fear of setting off a civil war. But those plans were scrapped after Israel's helicopter attack, which killed Abu Shanab and two bodyguards, the aides said.

Palestinian legislator Ziad Abu Zayyad said that the renewed violence threatens to topple the already weak prime minister — also known as Abu Mazen — who was appointed in April under pressure from U.S. and Israeli leaders searching for an alternative to Arafat.

"If this situation continues, Abu Mazen will not last long," Abu Zayyad said. "Those interested in Abu Mazen's success must pressure Israel to stop undermining his government."

Abbas, largely failing to win his own people's support because talks with Israel did not produce the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners, appeared to be losing confidence among Israelis as well.

A poll published Friday, found that only 35 percent of Israelis thought peace talks with Abbas should continue following Tuesday's bombing. The survey of 501 adults by the Dahaf polling company was printed in the Yediot Ahronot newspaper and quoted a margin of error of 4.5 percent.

Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner said Israel's strikes on militants were in self-defense and were necessary to move along the road to peace.

"The strategy is legitimate self-defense," he said. "We go only after those who hit us."

Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers again set up road blocks along Gaza's main north-south highway, effectively cutting the strip in half. Hundreds of motorists were stranded on the roadway, which had been briefly re-opened in one of the most significant gestures Israel had offered to improve the daily lives of ordinary Palestinians.

The military said it closed the road to try to stop the firing of rockets into Israel.

In a loud, angry funeral in the Gaza Strip, men carried the bodies of Abu Shanab and his two bodyguards. The streets echoed with shouts for revenge. Some in the crowd of more than 15,000 chanted together a warning for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz: "Sharon and Mofaz listen very well, our retaliation will send you to hell."

In the West Bank, Israeli tanks and other armored vehicles rolled into the towns of Jenin, Tulkarem and Nablus for a second night of raids searching for wanted Palestinians. Troops used explosives to demolish three houses that belonged to the families of militants who carried out attacks.