Sharon says Israel had ''natural right'' to assassinate Hamas founder
Hamas spiritual leader Shiekh Ahmed Yassin was killed at daybreak Monday when Israeli helicopters fired missiles at his car as he left a mosque near his house in Gaza City.
Witnesses said Israeli helicopters fired three missiles as Yassin and his bodyguards they left the mosque. Yassin was killed instantly and eight others, including Yassin's bodyguards were also said to have been killed.
Hamas officials confirmed that he had been killed. In announcing Yassin's death, Hamas said, "(Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon has opened the gates of hell and nothing will stop us from cutting off his head."
Palestinian hospital sources said 15 people were injured in the strike.
The Israeli Army confirmed that Yassin had been killed in the strike, saying he was directly responsible for dozens of "terrorist attacks".
"In an operation by security forces [Monday] morning in the northern Gaza Strip, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, leader of the Hamas terrorist group and personally responsible for dozens of terrorist attacks and the deaths of Israelis, foreigners and security personnel, was killed in an air strike on his car," the army said in a statement.
For his part, Ariel Sharon justified the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, saying the Jewish people had a "natural right" to pursue those who would destroy it.
Yassin's ideology, Sharon told a meeting of his Likud Party parliamentary caucus, "was killing and murdering Jews, wherever they were, and the destruction of the State of Israel".
Sharon added Yassin was an "arch-terrorist" who plotted attacks that killed hundreds of Israelis. "The war against terror has not ended and will continue day after day, everywhere," Sharon told legislators from his Likud Party.
"This is a difficult struggle that all the countries of the enlightened world must participate in. It is the natural right of the Jewish people, like that of all nations in the world that love life, to hunt down those who rise to destroy it," Sharon said.
Israel's Army Radio reported that the decision to assassinate Yassin was taken following last Sunday's double suicide bombing at the Ashdod port in which 10 people were killed.
At Shifa Hospital, Hamas official Ismail Haniyeh, a close associate of Yassin, had tears in his eyes as he confirmed Yassin's death and pledged revenge. "This is the moment Sheikh Yassin dreamed about," Haniyeh said. "Sheikh Yassin lived and died and offered his life to Palestine. Sheikh Yassin was a hero and a fighter and the leader of a nation, and (he) is in heaven now."
Hamas military wing, Ezzedin al-Qassam Brigades vowed to avenge the killing with immediate reprisals, it said in statement sent to AFP. "We, the Ezzedin al-Qassam leaders, have decided to take immediate reprisals, like an earthquake that will hit everywhere to destroy the Zionist presence," said the statement, adding that the response would be "unexpected."
Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat condemned the killing. "Assassinations, incursions, walls, will not produce peace and security, on the contrary, it will just add fuel to the fire," he told The AP.
Yassin was born in 1936 and was a paraplegic and was confined to a wheelchair after an accident in his youth.
Yassin studied at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt following secondary school, despite his paralysis.
He founded Hamas in 1987. He was held in Israeli prisons for several years before being released in 1997. Yassin was released by Israel in exchange for two Mossad agents who had been arrested by Jordanian authorities after a failed attempt to kill another senior Hamas official.
Yassin repeatedly said that the land of Israel is "consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgement Day and that "The so-called peace path is not peace and it is not a substitute for jihad and resistance."
© 2004 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)
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