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Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day 2004 Israel Faxx News Services

Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day began Sunday night. President Moshe Katsav warned of rising anti-Semitism in Europe, "The world knew, the world saw and continued to ignore the genocide of Europe's Jews. The shame should accompany humanity for eternity." He spoke at a ceremony at Yad Vashem, attended by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other dignitaries. Sharon said that the State of Israel does not forget what those who hated the people of Israel have perpetrated in the past, which is why "we won't let the murderers of today and those of tomorrow to hurt our people. Those who dare do so will be harmed. Our face is toward peace, but the defending sword will not be returned to its sheath."

Sharon Warns of Broad Plan to Capture or Kill all Hamas Leaders

By Ross Dunn (VOA-Jerusalem)

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he would continue to hunt down all leaders of Hamas and would push ahead with his plan to disengage from some Palestinian areas. His pledge followed Israel's killing on Saturday of Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi.

Sharon opened a cabinet meeting by thanking the Israeli army for what he called a "successful" operation to assassinate Rantisi. The Hamas leader was fatally wounded in a helicopter gunship attack on his car on Saturday. Two bodyguards and Rantise's son were also killed. Thousands of outraged Palestinians took to the streets in the Gaza Strip at the funerals. Hamas leaders promised revenge attacks on Israel.

Sharon said the Israeli policy of trying to advance the political process while at the same time hitting out at terrorist leaders would continue. He is hoping to build up support for his plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank before a referendum of his ruling Likud Party on May 2.

The prime minister's spokesman, Raanan Gissin, said the killing of Rantisi is just one part of a wider plan to capture or kill all the leaders of Hamas. "Since we failed to bring him to justice, we brought justice to him and so we will do with the rest of the leaders of the terrorist organization." d.

Hamas is listed by the State Department as a terrorist group. It has carried out frequent suicide bombings and other attacks that have killed hundreds of Israelis. Israel claims Rantisi was directly responsible for some of these deaths and this justified his killing.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said Israel's policy of killing Rantisi and other Hamas leaders would only lead to more bloodshed. "It is no doubt that is a crime. It is completely condemned. And I am sure that it is a step that Israel intended to escalate the circle of violence in this region."

Hamas vowed to avenge the deaths of Rantisi and the group's spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was killed in a similar Israeli military strike three-weeks ago. Rantisi was elevated to the top position in the Gaza Strip, following the sheikh's death.

Hamas said it has selected another man to replace Rantisi. But it said the identity of the new leader would not be revealed in order to prevent Israel from assassinating him also.

Rantisi: A Life Lived, Ended for Palestinian Cause

By Ross Dunn (VOA-Jerusalem)

Tens of thousands of Palestinians took part Sunday in the funeral for the Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, killed Saturday in an Israeli air strike. His death is another formidable blow to Hamas. Even after his death, recordings of fiery Rantisi speeches urged Hamas followers to continue their violent attacks on Israel.

Rantisi was a long-time spokesman for the organization before becoming Gaza leader last month following Israel's assassination of the Hamas spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. He warned then that the sheikh's death would only inspire Hamas to step up its campaign of violence. "The road is opened. I know that they [Hamas members] will succeed in assassinating the political leaders [in Israel]." But Israel acted swiftly to stop Rantisi from carrying out his dire threats.

An Israeli helicopter fired missiles at his car late Saturday in Gaza City. Although he was pulled alive from the burning wreckage, he died later on the operating table. Israel held Rantisi directly responsible for the deaths of Israeli citizens. Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Jonathan Peled says he was targeted to prevent more innocent people from being killed.

"Israel is compelled to continue fighting against terrorism and struck a mastermind of terrorism, a man with blood on his hands, the head of the Hamas terrorist organization, that is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Israelis," he said.

Rantisi rose to prominence after becoming one of the founders of Hamas in 1988. He was born in 1947 in a village near the coastal city of Ashkelon. It became part of Israel one year later when the Jewish state was created. The Rantisi family became refugees and moved to a camp in the southern Gaza Strip.

As a young man he studied medicine in Egypt and returned to work in Gaza as a pediatrician. But politics became his real passion. He was arrested for the first time in 1983 for attempting to organize a tax revolt against the Israeli administration in Gaza.

He was jailed again in 1990 and two-years later was one of 400 Palestinians exiled to Lebanon by Israel, but the group was allowed to return home following a storm of international protest. He immediately re-dedicated himself to Hamas, which has sworn to destroy Israel and establish an Islamic state. He soon got in trouble with the newly formed Palestinian Authority. In 1998, he was jailed after demanding some members of the authority resign. He publicly opposed efforts by the, then, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to revive peace talks last year with Israel.

In the last few weeks of his life, Rantisi said he wanted to die a martyr for the Palestinian cause. Israel granted him his wish. Hamas said it does not want his successor to share the same fate.

The Bush administration warned Israel to consider the consequences of its actions. A White House statement did not condemn the killing of Rantisi, but said Israel has a right to defend itself.

Israir To Fly Direct From JFK


Israir announced Sunday that it would begin direct flights to New York on June 15. As of now, El Al is the only Israeli airline that makes direct flights between Israel's Ben Gurion Airport and JFK Airport in New York. Continental Airlines remains the only foreign airline that flies directly between Ben Gurion Airport and Newark Airport in New Jersey.

Two years ago Israir planned to begin direct flights to New York, but the Ministry of Transportation refused to approve the route. After petitioning the Supreme Court, Israir received permission to begin flights. Israir subsequently postponed its plans due to the drop in tourism resulting from the Oslo War but with the recent increase in tourism has now decided that the time is right to begin the flights. Israir, which currently flies to Europe as well as domestically within Israel, will make the flights through Iceland Air.

Israir General Manager Sabina Biran said the airline would operate Boeing 767-300ER wide-bodied planes on the route three times a week - on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. The flights will leave Ben Gurion Airport and JFK around midnight. The Boeing 767-300ER has a capacity of 185 tourist class and 42 business class passengers.

Israir will be the first Israeli airline to make charter flights to New York. Zohar Andelman, CEO of Unitel, which will be marketing the new flights, said tickets would cost $700-1,100 during the peak season, and that Unitel would offer packages, including hotels, organized tours, and family tours. Israir does not plan to operate the three weekly direct flights during the winter season, instead using the planes for flights to the Far East, Mexico and Cuba.

At a Sunday press conference, Andelman said, "We're convinced that El Al will react quickly to our flights, possibly even by tomorrow morning. We want to grab 5% of the market share on the New York route."

Biran said, "We have long-term goals, and we believe that the New York route will be profitable in its first year of operation. We might even increase our activities this summer, depending on demand." Israir will offer relatively low-cost $1,999 business class tickets.

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