Yassin: terrorist or hero?


March 23, 2004

Probably no one in Israel and the Palestinian territories - not Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, not Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon - has been a more polarizing figure than Sheik Ahmed Yassin, founder of the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

The reaction to his assassination yesterday by the Israeli military was no less polarized. Depending on the speaker, Yassin was remembered as evil incarnate or the embodiment of the Palestinian people, as bringer of darkness or bringer of light. His assassination was "complete lunacy" or the wise action of a vigilant nation.

Yassin, whose date of birth is uncertain, spent his early childhood in what is now Israel, on the Mediterranean coast. During the first Arab-Israeli war, in 1948, his family fled to Gaza and its refugee camps.

As a teen-ager Yassin became paralyzed, though the circumstances are unclear. In 1987, Yassin founded the Islamic fundamentalist group known as Hamas, and he would remain its spiritual leader. The group soon became the strongest political challenger to Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization and a promoter of suicide bombings that killed hundreds of Israelis.

Here are some of the comments made yesterday after Yassin's death.

"The Israeli air force this morning killed the mastermind of all evil, Ahmed Yassin, who was a preacher of death."

- Brig. Gen. Ruth Yaron, chief Israeli military spokeswoman

"This is one of the biggest crimes that the Israeli government has committed."

- Ahmed Qureia, Palestinian prime minister

"The war against terror has not ended and will continue day after day, everywhere. ... 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."

- Ariel Sharon, Israeli prime minister

"Such actions are not only contrary to international law but they do not do anything to help the search for a peaceful solution."

- Kofi Annan, United Nations secretary-general

"Justice has been done."

- Israel Katz, Israeli agriculture minister

"The operation attests to complete lunacy. The decision came from the gut and not from the head."

- Avshalom Vilan, Israeli lawmaker from the dovish Yahad Party

"Words cannot describe the emotion of anger and hate inside our hearts."

- Ismail Haniyeh, a close Yassin associate

"We of course condemn this criminal insane act, we notice the broad international condemnation of this extrajudicial execution and also of the practice as a whole."

- Nasser Al-Kidwa, chief Palestinian delegate to the United Nations

"[Yasser Arafat] is like a man who was hit on the head because they killed Yassin and now they could kill him. He feels his turn is next, and he is sad and worried."

- An Arafat aide, describing the Palestinian leader's reaction

"Yassin is a man in a nation, and a nation in a man. And the retaliation of this nation will be of the size of this man. ... You will see deeds not words."

- Abdel Aziz Rantisi , Hamas leader

"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."

- Hamas statement to the Associated Press

"All of us are Ahmed Yassin, from Amman to Jenin, from Baghdad to Jenin."

- Protesters' chant in Amman, Jordan

"We are deeply troubled by this morning's incident in Gaza."

- Scott McClellan, White House spokesman

"What peace process, when the situation is on fire? Nobody would have imagined that matters would go this far. ... Its repercussions are unknown."

- Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian president

"We are annoyed and pained by what happened despite our arduous and persistent efforts with all sides, including the Israeli government, to refrain from its policy of military escalation."

- Abdullah II, king of Jordan

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