The ruling Palestinian faction Hamas on Thursday deplored the killing by U.S. warplanes of the al Qaeda leader in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, describing him as a casualty of a crusade against Arabs and Muslims.
Hamas had distanced itself in the past from violence abroad blamed on al Qaeda, but in a statement faxed to Reuters after Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. air strike north of Baghdad on Wednesday,it said it mourned the Jordanian-born insurgent as a “martyr of the (Muslim Arab) nation”.
“With hearts full of faith, Hamas commends brother-fighter Abu Musab … who was martyred at the hands of the savage crusade campaign which targets the Arab homeland, starting in Iraq,” the statement said.
The news Thursday of the death of al-Zarqawi was widely welcomed by international leaders.
U.S. President George Bush said that U.S. special operations forces confirmed Zarqawi’s location based on intelligence from Iraqis and “delivered justice to the most wanted terrorist in Iraq.”
He called al-Zarqawi’s death a “severe blow to Al-Qaida” and “an opportunity for Iraq’s new government to turn the tide” in its struggle against terrorism.
But the president also indicated that he believed that sectarian violence in Iraq would continue.
On a visit to Pakistan, Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud al-Zahar of Hamas said Palestinians are “blessing every effort to eliminate the existence of occupation” in Iraq.
“We are dead sure that assassination of any of the people who are resisting will not … end the resistance,” Zahar said at a press conference in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.
In a statement posted on an Islamist Web site, Al-Qaida in Iraq confirmed Zarqawi’s death, and renewed its support for Osama bin Laden.
“We tell our prince, Sheikh bin Laden, your soldiers in Al-Qaida in Iraq will continue along the same path that you set out for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi,” said the statement, which could not be immediately authenticated.
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu told Israel Radio that, “Everyone who wants a better world, free of murderous, crazed terrorism needs to welcome the elimination of Zarqawi.”
“Today’s announcement was very good news because a blow against al-Qaida in Iraq was a blow against al-Qaida everywhere,” said British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Abu Majed, spokesman for the Palestinian movement Popular Resistance Committees, said, “Whether the fighter leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was martyred or not, resistance will continue in all Islamic lands as long as occupation exists.”
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi hailed Zarqawi’s death as a step forward that would hopefully lead to improved security in Iraq.
Japan has some 600 troops in southern Iraq performing humanitarian missions in support of the U.S.-led coalition, and Senior Vice Foreign Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda said he hoped the news would herald a new period of stability.
“I hope [his death] can help in improving the security in Iraq given that al-Zarqawi has been a symbolic presence for foreign terrorists in Iraq,” Kaneda was quoted by Kyodo News agency as saying.
“The reported death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is great news for the people of Iraq, the real victims of his murderous behavior,” Australian Prime Minister John Howard said in a statement.
“Not only does his death remove a cruel terrorist, but it’s also a huge boost for anti-terrorist forces in Iraq,” he added.
Howard sent 2,000 troops to support the U.S. and British military in the Iraq invasion and has promised to keep troops in the strife-torn country as long as they are needed and welcome.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said that while Zarqawi’s death marks a “great success,” he cautioned that it would not end violence in the country.
Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, however, said that he hoped Zarqawi’s death would mark an end to terrorism in his country.
“This is a very important victory for the people of Iraq. He was the evil of terrorism,” he said. “He was responsible for the deaths of many people in Iraq. Having him killed is a very important achievement for us. We are strongly determined to root out the remaining al-Qaida people. This is a serious blow to terrorism. We hope that terrorism in Iraq will be over.”
But London-based Islamist expert Yasser al-Sirry warned that, “Zarqawi’s death, if confirmed, will have little effect on the jihad in Iraq.”
“He made clear several times that he is the leader of one faction that is fighting under the Mujahideen Council umbrella. I expect no let up in the jihad, maybe even an escalation as his followers wage retribution killings.”