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Israel for fight, Israelis not so sure

Jerusalem, June 13 (Reuters): Israel pledged today a “war to the bitter end” against Hamas but an opinion poll showed a majority of Israelis oppose the stepped-up attacks on leaders of the militant Islamic group.

With his peace “road map” threatened by Israeli-Palestinian violence that has killed 39 people in two days, President George W. Bush planned to send a veteran US diplomat to Israel this weekend to try to stem the bloodshed.

“As a government responsible for the security of its citizens, we must wage a war to the bitter end (against Hamas) because no one else, at least at this stage, will do it,” Israeli deputy defence minister Zeev Boim told Army Radio.

But a poll in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily found 67 per cent of Israelis wanted what the survey termed the “assassination policy” to stop, at least temporarily, to give new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas a chance to grow stronger.

Keeping up pressure on Hamas, which is sworn to the Jewish state’s destruction, Israel launched a helicopter missile strike in the Gaza Strip yesterday that killed seven, including senior militant Yasser Taha, his wife and one-year-old daughter. A bystander wounded in the attack died today, doctors said.

At their funeral processions today, gunmen fired in the air and a Hamas loudspeaker blared: “God’s revenge is coming soon and the Zionists will pay the price of their crimes.”

The army issued a statement expressing “sorrow over the death” of Taha’s family.

In separate incidents near the West Bank city of Jenin, gunmen killed an Israeli civilian buying charcoal in a Palestinian village and soldiers shot dead two militants. Hamas’ armed wing claimed responsibility for the Israeli’s death.

US officials said assistant secretary of state John Wolf would leave for Jerusalem as early as tomorrow, to lead a US team that will monitor progress under the road map and meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

US secretary of state Colin Powell plans to attend a June 22 meeting, probably in Amman, with representatives of the UN, Russia and the EU, the international quartet that drafted the road map. The plan calls for an end to violence and the start of confidence-building steps, including a Palestinian crackdown on militants and an Israeli freeze in settlement construction on occupied land.

Israel’s superpower ally today reiterated its call for Palestinian violence to end before Israeli military measures.

“We all are anxious to see restraint and we understand that it’s important to get the terror down,” Powell said. “If the terror goes down, then the response to terror will no longer be required, so we have to get moving and bring the terror down.”

Abbas has sought to negotiate a deal with Hamas to end its attacks on Israelis. Hamas broke off talks last week and on Sunday killed four Israeli soldiers in a Gaza raid coordinated with two other militant groups.

Italy imam suspended

Italy’s Muslim League suspended the imam of Rome’s main mosque today after he praised Palestinian suicide bombers at Friday prayers and called on Allah to “annihilate the enemies of Islam”.

Mahmoud Ibrahim Moussa, an Egyptian national, made the declarations in his sermon at prayers last Friday, causing a storm of protest that led to his ousting a week later.

“That unfortunate sermon drew criticism from all over the place, even from the interior minister, so we decided it would be opportune to replace the imam,” Mario Scialoja, head of the Italian branch of the Muslim World League, said.

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