Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

POWDERKEG; Revenge Mobs Parade Coffins on Streets as Israeli Missiles Wipe out Hamas Leader

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

POWDERKEG; Revenge Mobs Parade Coffins on Streets as Israeli Missiles Wipe out Hamas Leader

Article excerpt

Byline: VALENTINE LOW

THE Middle East is braced for its bloodiest conflict in years after a leading Palestinian cleric was killed in an Israeli air strike.

Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, 67, spiritual head of the militant Palestinian group Hamas, is said by Israel to be the inspiration behind the suicide bombings that have killed hundreds. Yassin, a quadriplegic, died in a hail of missiles fired from Israeli army helicopters as he was being pushed in his wheelchair from a mosque in Gaza City.

Within hours thousands of Palestinians poured onto the streets carrying the coffins of Yassin and his bodyguards who also died in the attack. "All of Palestine will turn into a volcano that will burn up the enemies," said Hamas official Ismail Haniyeh. "Words cannot describe the emotion of anger and hate inside our hearts."

Rage on the streets was echoed by Arab states around the region. Egyptian president Israel in three years of violence. One witness to the dawn attack said: "Sheikh Yassin was lying on the ground and his wheelchair was destroyed.

People darted left and right. Then another two missiles landed."

At least eight people are thought to have died. The missile strike sparked a wave of violence and anger.

Hamas political leader Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi said: "They are the killers of prophets and today they killed an Islamic symbol.

"It's a war on Islam. What happened was beyond the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. They wanted to assassinate the Palestinian cause."

The attack is seen as an enormous gamble by Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon who is trying to score a decisive victory against Hamas before a possible Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

It was a carbon copy of other Israeli assassinations of militant Islamic leaders during the violence that erupted after peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians foundered in 2000.

It prompted a wave of international condemnation, but today Mr Sharon said that Israel will press ahead with its "war on terror". …

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