Named Hamas's Gaza leader after Israel assassinated Sheik Ahmed Yassin last week, [Abdel Aziz Rantisi] assumes his new duties with security around him beefed up; Israel tried to assassinate him last year. Nevertheless, in a show of strength before thousands of Hamas supporters in Gaza's main soccer stadium, he promised all-out revenge on Israel.
That Rantisi and Israel's hard-line prime minister, Ariel Sharon, are the two leaders left standing in the tortuous Israeli- Palestinian conflict speaks volumes about the bloodshed that has engulfed both sides. Each man has marked the other for death: Israel has vowed to target all Hamas leaders, and Hamas has specifically threatened Sharon.
Shortly before I met Rantisi in 1997, he had embraced [Yasser Arafat] -- a controversial gesture -- during a "national unity meeting" of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. The two men, meeting for the first time, kissed each other on the cheek, as is common in the Arab world. Binyamin Netanyahu, who was then Israel's prime minister, told Arafat to choose whether to "embrace Hamas or embrace peace."
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