Mubarak: Shocked at Israeli
assassination attempt while trying
to negotiate for peace

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak told reporters on Wednesday that the helicopter raid that wounded the Hamas  leader in Gaza was a "shock" and obstructed efforts to persuade Palestinian armed factions to end their resistance to occupation.
  
It "comes at a bad time, all the more so because the Americans have asked to avoid reprisals," Mubarak said, standing beside Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, following talks with him.
     
Earlier, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said the attempted murder "is part of Israeli attempts to torpedo the peace process and defeat any serious effort aimed at reaching an accord among the Palestinian factions.”
  
Egyptian initiative blunted

"Israel knew perfectly well that attempts were underway with Palestinian factions to reach a truce and to halt attacks," Maher told Egyptian radio, referring to Egyptian intelligence chief General Omar Sulayman’s visit to Ramallah.

Sulayman met President Yassir Arafat and Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas to discuss ending armed resistance to occupation in the wake of the assassination attempt only hours before.

Palestinian information minister Nabil Amr said Sulayman's visit was aimed at "promoting a truce" to help implement the US-backed road map for peace, but the three hour meeting in Arafat's battered West Bank headquarters concluded with no substantial developments. 
  

Al-Rantissi managed to jump clear
as his car was hit by rockets
"We had a meeting with the factions last night, which Hamas did not attend, and we reiterate that our line is to pursue efforts for a dialogue," Arafat told reporters.
  
US response

The United States has also criticised Israel for its assassination attempt on Hamas leader Abd al-Aziz al-Rantissi.
 
Reacting to the assassination attempt and to the “road map” for peace in the Middle East, US President George W Bush vowed to persevere with it, but said the assault on al-Rantissi could weaken Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.
 
"I'm concerned that the attacks will make it more difficult for Palestinian leadership to fight off terrorist attacks. I also don't believe the attacks helped Israeli security," Bush said.
 
Bush ordered top aides to urgently convey those points to Israeli and Palestinian officials and lean on them to stick to the letter and spirit of the “road map” which stipulates reciprocal concessions, leading to a Palestinian state by 2005.
 
Earlier, the Palestinian prime minister said he had appealed to Washington to save the “road map”.  His Israeli counterpart Ariel Sharon said “we will continue to fight against terrorism so long as nobody in the other (Palestinian) camp does so. We will continue to strike against the heads of extremist terrorist organizations.”
 
Hamas to retaliate
 
The armed wing of Hamas, Izz ul-Din al-Qassam, has warned that from now on all options are open. “We will attack at the heart of the Zionist enemy. Our response will be very hard, of the magnitude of an earthquake," it said.
 
Hamas responded immediately by firing rockets into a nearby Israeli town that resulted in five people being treated for shock. This prompted a second Israeli helicopter attack that killed three Palestinians - all civilians - and wounded 32 other people.