Tens of thousands of Gaza Strip residents, many of them in tears, poured into the streets after Hamas announced the death of the quadriplegic Sheikh Ahmed Yassin over mosque loudspeakers. Masked fighters at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, where Yassin's body was taken, shot into the air in rage. Angry mourners burned tires, sending black smoke over Gaza City.
Hamas vowed revenge against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and hinted at targeting the United States for supporting Israel. The Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a military group allied with Fatah movement, also promised swift retaliation.
In a statement faxed to The Associated Press, Hamas said, "The Zionists didn't carry out their operation without getting the consent of the terrorist American Administration, and it must take responsibility for this crime."
The Palestinian Authority declared three days of mourning and said the Israelis had crossed "all red lines with this cheap and dirty crime."
The Israeli army imposed a full closure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip after Yassin's killing and divided the Strip into three areas, preventing movement between them.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei accused the Israelis of trying to escalate violence with the Palestinians. "This is one of the biggest crimes that the Israeli government has committed," Qurei told The Associated Press. "Sheikh Ahmed Yassin is one of the most important leaders in the Palestinian factions and Israel does know well what they had committed this morning."
The U.S. State Department urged calm. "We're looking into the circumstances and are in touch with Israeli and Palestinian authorities," spokesman Lou Fintor said. "The United States urges all sides to remain calm and exercise restraint."
© 2004 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )