GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – The new Hamas leader in Gaza on Sunday called President Bush an enemy of Islam (search) and said that "God declared war" against the United States and Israel — but stopped short of saying the group would strike U.S. targets.
The Hamas chief, Abdel Aziz Rantissi (search), renewed threats to attack Israel in retaliation for the assassination of the group's founder, Sheik Ahmed Yassin (search), last week. He was addressing a Hamas rally at Gaza City's Islamic University.
Last week, immediately after the killing of Yassin, the Hamas (search) military wing made veiled threats against the United States, but leaders of the Islamic militant groups later backed off.
Rantissi himself said last week that Hamas' conflict is with Israel and the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search), and that the group has no intention of opening a new front abroad.
Rantissi said it was no surprise that the United States vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution Thursday condemning the killing of Yassin.
"We knew that Bush is the enemy of God, the enemy of Islam and Muslims," Rantissi told the crowd. "America declared war against God. Sharon declared war against God and God declared war against America, Bush and Sharon."
"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 said.
Israel is taking the Hamas threats seriously, including statements that Sharon and other Israeli officials are legitimate targets.
Israel has increased security and assigned armored Cadillacs to several Cabinet ministers, one minister said on condition of anonymity. The minister refused to say how many armored cars were provided, but said Likud Party hard-liner, Gideon Ezra, was among those who received one.
In the past, Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a former prime minister, used an armored car on occasion. The only government officials who regularly drive in armored cars are Sharon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz.
Since Yassin's assassination, Israeli has tightened security measures. Israeli border patrol, troops and police have been sent into the streets, setting up roadblocks and checking IDs randomly. Cafes, buses and malls emptied out for several days as Israelis braced for retaliation.
Nine Israeli lawmakers have been given 24-hour protection, among them Likud hard-liners Yuval Steinitz and Ehud Yatom.
Rabbis, including Israel's current and former chief rabbis, have been assigned security guards, said a security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a prominent religious leader and founder of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, moved his weekly Saturday night Bible study class to a secret location due to reported intelligence warnings that militants are targeting rabbis.
Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon and other senior generals have also been assigned additional bodyguards, officials said.
Israel's Foreign Ministry increased security at embassies, consulates and missions abroad following the assassination. Israeli diplomats at missions in Qatar and Mauritania were brought home a week earlier than scheduled for the Jewish holiday of Passover.
In a West Bank village near Hebron, Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian fugitive during an arrest operation Sunday, the army said. The fugitive, Jamal Atel, was a member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a militant group linked to Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement. Atel fled to the roof of his house when the army came to arrest him, and soldiers shot and killed him, the army said.
Israeli troops also raided the West Bank city of Nablus on Sunday, surrounding a house and exchanging fire with Palestinians, witnesses said. Neighbors said troops arrested two brothers, one of whom was a member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a group loosely affiliated with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah party.
The Israeli military had no immediate comment, but earlier said that troops had arrested two Palestinians in Nablus, including one who they said was an Islamic Jihad member planning to carry out a homicide bombing in Israel.