IMAGE: Abdel Aziz Rantisi
Kevin Frayer  /  AP
Abdel Aziz Rantisi, left, speaks to supporters at the Islamic University in Gaza City on Sunday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 3/28/2004 8:41:42 PM ET 2004-03-29T01:41:42

The new Hamas leader branded President Bush on Sunday “the enemy of God, the enemy of Islam,” but stopped short of threatening to attack U.S. targets in retaliation for last week’s assassination by Israel of the Islamic militant group’s founder.

Driven underground by Israel’s vow to wipe out the remaining Hamas leadership by airstrikes, Abdel Aziz Rantisi emerged briefly for a fiery open-air speech before 5,000 people in the main courtyard of Gaza City’s Islamic University

He sharply attacked the United States for its veto of a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have condemned the assassination of Sheik Ahmed Yassin.

Rantisi told the rally that the veto did not come as a surprise. “We knew that Bush is the enemy of God, the enemy of Islam and Muslims. America declared war against God. Sharon declared war against God and God declared war against America, Bush and Sharon,” Rantisi said.

“The war of God continues against them, and I can see the victory coming up from the land of Palestine by the hand of Hamas,” he added.

Rantisi said Hamas would avenge Yassin’s death by attacking Israel, but stopped short of saying the group would also go after U.S. targets.

Israeli warplanes roared overhead at one point during his address and the crowd gazed skyward nervously. But Rantisi, who last June survived an Israeli missile strike, seemed unmoved and kept speaking. He was flanked by armed bodyguards and stood on a podium close to the throng.

Veiled threats against U.S.
Last week, immediately after the killing of Yassin, the Hamas military wing made veiled threats against the United States, but leaders of the Islamic militant groups later backed off. Rantisi himself said last week that Hamas’ conflict is with Israel and that the group has no intention of opening a new front abroad.

A grassroots movement challenging mainstream the Palestinian Authority and its policy of negotiations with Israel, Hamas seeks not just to roll back Israeli occupation in Gaza and the West Bank but to destroy the Jewish state.

Rantisi called on Arab states to sever any relations they had with Israel but said they only looked weak following the weekend postponement of an Arab League summit in a dispute over democratic reform proposals.

“The blood of Yassin is urging you to shut down the (Israeli) embassies and representative offices. Stop meeting the killers. Stop meeting Sharon. Boycott them, commercially, diplomatically and culturally and in security (contacts).”

The assassination of Yassin disturbed summit preparations by exposing the impotence of Arab governments which mustered no response stronger than ritual words of condemnation.

In the West Bank, Israeli soldiers surrounded a house in the city of Nablus, setting off a gunfight. A Palestinian was wounded. The Israelis arrested two suspects, the military said.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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