Background Articulate Rantisi Rivaled Arafat

Dr. Abdel Aziz Rantisi became the commander of Hamas in the Gaza Strip two days after the targeted killing of Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin on March 22. He was clearly the leader of the hawkish line in Hamas from its founding in 1988. Rantisi, a pediatrician, was considered an articulate and sharp-tongued spokesman for Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and its most extreme representative both with regard to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Rantisi was born in the village of Yabnah, near Ashkelon, in 1947, and moved with his family in 1948 to the Khan Yunis refugee camp. After studying medicine in Egypt, he returned to the Gaza Strip in the 1970s and worked as a pediatrician in the Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis.

Rantisi was arrested for the first time in 1983 after he attempted to organize a tax revolt against the Israeli Civil Administration in the Strip. In 1988, he was arrested for membership in Hamas, which had been established a few months before, and was imprisoned for two and a half years.

In 1990, Rantisi was again placed in administrative detention and in December 1992, he was among the 400 Hamas and Islamic Jihad members deported to Marj a-Zuhour in Lebanon. The deportation and the period spent in Lebanon became the main catalyst for Rantisi's rise in the movement, as he became the leader and spokesman of the deportees.

When he returned to the territories, Rantisi was arrested and imprisoned numerous times by the PA. His popularity increased continually during the present intifada; a poll taken in the territories just before the killing of Ahmed Yassin put Rantisi second in popularity only to Yasser Arafat. Among those polled, 14.7 percent said they would like to see him as Arafat's deputy.

The PA failed a number of times in attempting to arrest Rantisi as he was constantly surrounded by armed bodyguards and Hamas members.

Two days after Yassin's death, Rantisi issued a statement in which he named himself Yassin's successor as leader of Hamas. A few days later, Hamas issued a statement naming him the movement's commander in the Gaza Strip.

In recent interviews, Rantisi assumed a more moderate tone than in the past. While declaring that he intended to avenge Yassin's death, he also said he would cooperate with the PA toward possible joint administration of the Gaza Strip after the Israeli withdrawal.