Hamas founder appears in public despite house arrest; U.S. criticizes PA
The spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, defied his house arrest order and took part in an anti-US march in Gaza Strip, news agency reported.
Yassin, officially placed under house arrest four days ago by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, sat in the passenger seat of a jeep, while six armed bodyguards surrounded the vehicle on foot. More than 1,000 people marched in the anti-US rally to the center of Gaza City, including activists from Hamas, the smaller Islamic Jihad group and Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. Palestinian police flanked the protesters but did not intervene.
Yassin reiterated on Friday that "no one informed me of the house arrest", in a brief statement to reporters at the demonstration. Senior Hamas leader Ismail Abu Shanab also told AFP in Gaza that the movement was "not afraid" police would harm their spiritual leader.
"We are here to say that we will sacrifice our souls and blood for Jerusalem," said Yassin. "Whoever defends his land is not a terrorist. America supports terrorism."
The march was held to protest at the 35th anniversary of East Jerusalem's annexation by Israel but used to denounce US President George W. Bush's demand that the Palestinians elect a new leadership "not compromised by terror" in exchange for US support for an independent Palestinian state.
Ibrahim Abu al-Hijaa, deputy speaker of the Palestinian legislative council, told the protestors that Bush's speech was "a cover for Zionist terrorism and the war that (Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon is launching against our people. "Bush has given Sharon's government the right to invade our towns and villages and destroy our institutions," he said, adding that the Palestinians "refused orders from abroad".
Demonstrators held up placards rejecting Bush's demands, and some carried huge Palestinian flags and portraits of Arafat.
"Yes to a democratic nation and elections. No to American pressure," one sign said.
Meanwhile in Washington, Richard Boucher, the State Department spokesman crticized Friday the PA for letting Shiekh Yassin attend in the march.
"When the announcement was made that he was being put under house arrest, I expressed a bit of skepticism, noting that he had been under house arrest in January, and that was relaxed over time. And we have said again that the issue is to put these groups out of business, not to temporarily put them under house arrest. So unfortunately, it fits a pattern, a pattern that we've noted and a pattern that the President noted...," Boucher said during his daily press briefing. (Albawaba.com)
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