Tuesday’s statement is the first known public comment by Muhammad Daif, who has survived numerous Israeli assassination attempts.

He was seriously wounded by an Israeli missile fired into his car in 2002 but has recovered.

In remarks carried on a Hamas Web site, Daif said that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to dismantle settlements in Gaza as the Intifada rages on proved his failure to crush the uprising against Israeli occupation. 
 
"The criminal Sharon was elected to smash our resistance in 100 days. But now the man who once said Netzarim (a settlement in Gaza) was just like Tel Aviv is planning to withdraw from Gaza without something in return," said Daif. 

Under international law, all Jewish settlements are illegal, a stance not recognised by Israel.

Economic battle

"This is a great prophesy of victory," Daif said in a rare audio interview broadcast by Hamas's armed wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, on its Web page.
 
Sharon has not fleshed out his plan or given a timetable. It is opposed by pro-settler parties in his right-wing coalition.
 
Daif said "martyrdom operations" had weakened Israel "economically, militarily and psychologically".

"We have hit Israel in its heart. Its economy is collapsing and its life has become full of fear and horror," he said.

Israel has assassinated a number of top and regional commanders of resistance groups in efforts to subdue an uprising marked by hundreds of bombings, but such killings have stirred vows of retaliation and led to further attacks.
 
Hamas and other Islamist and secular resistance groups have rejected Palestinian Authority calls for a ceasefire.