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Leader of Hamas assassinated
Israel's ruthless murder

By Eric Ruder | March 26, 2004 | Page 12

THE ASSASSINATION of Hamas founder and spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin in a helicopter missile strike in Gaza City marks a new stage in Israel's savage repression of Palestinians. As leader of the largest and most important Islamist Palestinian organization, Yassin is one of the most prominent Palestinian leaders ever murdered by Israel. The three missiles fired at the wheelchair-bound Yassin also killed at least seven other Palestinians and left 17 more people wounded, including two of Yassin's sons.

More than 200,000 Palestinians--roughly one in six Palestinians living in Gaza--surged into the streets to join the funeral procession March 22. As Israeli helicopters hovered overhead, tires set on fire in protest filled the air with thick, black smoke.

Hamas leaders vowed retaliation against Israel and--for the first time--against the U.S. Anticipating revenge attacks, Israeli soldiers sealed off entrances into Israel and imposed total closures throughout the Occupied Territories.

Countries around the world--with the notable exception of the U.S.--condemned Israel's attack. Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia called the assault a "crazy and very dangerous act." "It opens the door wide to chaos," said Qureia. "Yassin is known for his moderation, and he was controlling Hamas--and therefore this is a dangerous, cowardly act."

But White House National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice refused to condemn the assassination, simply asking "everyone to step back and do nothing that precludes a better day." It's hardly surprising that the U.S. didn't restrain its main ally in the Middle East. Israel has already assassinated more than 160 alleged Palestinian "militants"--injuring, maiming and killing scores of Palestinian civilians in the process.

Israeli forces have "inflicted a reign of terror upon innocent Palestinians in the course of their assassination of militants in densely populated towns, their destruction of homes, and their random firing in built-up areas--not to mention the methodical intimidation and humiliation of civilians at checkpoints," wrote John Dugard, Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights, last fall.

On September 6, Israel tried--and failed--to assassinate Yassin, causing him only minor injuries. But Yassin continued to follow a predictable daily routine, regularly appearing on the streets of Gaza City.

So why did Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decide to carry out the assassination now? First, Sharon hoped to silence critics from his own right-wing Likud Party, as well as even more conservative parties in his government--by carrying out a high-profile attack on Hamas at a time when he's attempting to push through his plan for unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, having abandoned plans to control the area.

Second, Sharon hopes to use the near-certain retaliation attacks by Palestinians as leverage for his upcoming trip to the U.S. in a few weeks, where he plans to ask for concessions from Washington in exchange for withdrawing from Gaza. In the past, Israel has carried out assassinations to provoke suicide bombings, coldly calculating that the deaths of Israeli citizens could be manipulated for diplomatic benefits.

"Sharon is seeking a declaration by President George Bush that he does not expect Jerusalem to hold diplomatic negotiations with the Palestinians until they have replaced their leadership and halted terrorism," wrote Aluf Benn, military correspondent for Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper. "The prime minister also wants a promise of American recognition for a future annexation of the major West Bank settlement blocs to Israel."

What's more, Sharon wants to persuade Bush to accept that Israel's colonial war against Palestinians should be considered part of the U.S. "war on terrorism." The assassination of Yassin will provoke more Palestinian resistance. But Sharon is betting that Israeli public opinion will turn against Palestinians and not against him.

After waging an all-out military and diplomatic war on the PA and its chairman Yasser Arafat, the PA's ability to control the Palestinian territories has crumbled--to the benefit of Hamas. Hamas is widely seen as the more effective force when it comes to resisting Israel's war on Palestinian society, while Arafat's prestige has been tarnished by the many concessions he has made during negotiations since the 1993 Oslo accords.

Though most Palestinians don't support Hamas' calls for an Islamic state, the community services and Muslim charities organized by Hamas fulfill critical needs of a people who suffer from extraordinary unemployment and poverty under Israel's tight siege of the Occupied Territories.

Israel has already declared that it won't negotiate with Arafat--that he's "unfit" as a "peace partner." Now, it has assassinated Hamas' leader as well. The message is clear--Israel's "peace" means the total surrender of Palestinian resistance.

The U.S. supports this dirty war against Palestinians by funding and arming the massive Israeli armed forces. We have to demand an end to all U.S. aid to Israel--now!

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