Israel tried to poison Haniya, Hamas says


GAZA CITY -- Hamas accused Israel yesterday of a failed assassination attempt against Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya using a poison-filled letter.

Several employees in the office of Deputy Prime Minister Nasser Shaer in the West Bank city of Ramallah were hospitalized after one of them opened a letter addressed to Haniya. The letter contained a tissue that gave off a strange smell, filling the room and overwhelming several employees, Palestinian sources said.

Seven employees were hospitalized, one in serious condition.

An Israeli army spokesman denied any involvement by Israeli troops or officials. "We weren't involved," said the spokesman, who declined to give his name.

Haniya, during a Cabinet meeting yesterday in Gaza City, called the incident a "criminal and dangerous act," according to the Ramattan news agency.

He said the letter was sent from Tel Aviv addressed personally to him.

Shaer promised a full investigation, saying the tissue had been sent to a lab for analysis.

In 1997, Israeli agents tried to kill Hamas senior leader Khaled Meshaal in Amman, Jordan, by injecting poison in his ear. The attempt failed, and the agents were captured and later exchanged for jailed Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin.

Haniya has been unable to leave the Gaza Strip since his government took power in late March. In effect, Israel sealed off Gaza after militants captured an Israeli soldier in a June 28 cross-border ambush.

Dozens of Hamas-affiliated ministers and parliamentarians have since been detained without charges by Israel, most recently Parliament Speaker Aziz Dweik, who was hospitalized by his captors yesterday. An Israeli army spokesman said Dweik had complained of dizziness and chest pains and was being kept overnight for observation in a Jerusalem hospital.

In Gaza City, supporters of Islamic Jihad held a rally in support of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. About 1,000 protesters marched through Palestine Square downtown, waving black Islamic Jihad banners and yellow Hezbollah flags and chanting, "We are loyal to you, oh Nasrallah."

They also harshly criticized what they called the anemic response of Arab governments to the Israeli offensive in Lebanon and to the continuing siege that has paralyzed the Gaza Strip and killed at least 170 Palestinians.

Islamic Jihad senior leader Khalid Batsh condemned what he called "the international silence over Palestine that has given Israel the right to kill and commit massacres."

Nasrallah's popularity has soared throughout the Arab world during the three-week Israeli offensive. Hezbollah flags and posters of Nasrallah are one of the hottest-selling items in Gaza stores.

The Lebanese Shiite group has long been well-regarded among opponents of Israel for its protracted guerrilla war which helped lead to the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon in 2000.

Ashraf Khalil writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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