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Sheikh Ahmed Ismail Yassin (~1937 — March 22, 2004) was the leader of Hamas until he was killed by an Israeli helicopter gunship. Yassin co-founded Hamas with Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi in 1987, originally calling it the Palestinian Wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. In addition to being nearly blind, he was a quadriplegic and was confined to a wheelchair after a sports accident in his youth. Despite his paralysis, he fathered 12 children.
Yassin was born near the town of Ashkelon in then British Mandate of Palestine. His date of birth is not known for certain: according to his Palestinian passport, he was born on January 1, 1929, but he claimed to have actually been born in 1938. He and his family moved to Gaza after his village was destroyed in 1948 during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
Yassin studied at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, following secondary school, despite his paralysis. He did not attend a traditional madrassa that would have given him the authentic title of "shaikh," but he received it as an honorary title from his followers. The Muslim Brotherhood was founded at Al-Azhar and the Islamist and Arab nationalist movements were strong influences at the University. Yassin joined the Muslim Brotherhood during his studies at Al-Azhar.
Yassin opposed peaceful conciliation with the Israelis, asserting 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." .
In 1989 Yassin allegedly authorized the killing of Palestinians believed to be collaborating with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Israel accused Yassin of ordering the execution of two captured Israeli soldiers, a crime for which he was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to life imprisonment by an Israeli military court.
Release and later life
In 1997 Yassin was released from Israeli prison as part of an arrangement with Jordan following a failed assassination attempt of Khaled Mashal conducted by the Israeli Mossad in Jordan. Yassin was released by Israel in exchange for two Mossad agents who had been arrested by Jordanian authorities, on condition that he refrain from calling for suicide bombings against Israel.
Following his release, Yassin reassumed his leadership of Hamas. He immediately resumed his calls for violence against the Israeli occupation using tactics including suicide bombings against both Israeli military and civilian targets, thus violating the condition of his release. His epigram is his most famous quote: "We chose this road, and will end with martyrdom or victory".
During the various stages of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), Yassin was repeatedly placed under house arrest by the PA. Each time Yassin was placed under house arrest he was eventually released, often after extended demonstrations by his supporters.
Three months later, on September 6, 2003, an Israeli Air Force (IAF) F-16 dropped a quarter-ton bomb on a building in Gaza City, the Gaza Strip. Yassin was in the building at the time and was lightly wounded by the assassination attempt. Israeli officials later confirmed that Yassin was the target of the attack. His injuries were treated at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.
Following the assassination attempt, Yassin told reporters that "Days will prove that the assassination policy will not finish the Hamas. Hamas leaders wish to be martyrs and are not scared of death. Jihad will continue and the resistance will continue until we have victory, or we will be martyrs." 
Yassin further promised that Hamas would teach Israel an "unforgettable lesson" as a result of the assassination attempt . Yassin made no attempt to guard himself from further assassination attempts or hide his location. Journalists sometimes visited his Gaza address and Yassin maintained a routine daily pattern of activity, including being wheeled every morning to a nearby mosque.
Ahmed Yassin was assassinated in an Israeli attack on March 22, 2004. While he was being wheeled out of an early morning prayer session, an Israeli helicopter gunship fired Hellfire missiles at Yassin and both of his bodyguards. They were killed instantly, along with six other Palestinians. More than a dozen people were injured in the attack, including two of Yassin's sons. Only the charred metal seat and two twisted wheels were left of Yassin's wheelchair. A blood-soaked brown shoe lay in the street. His brown blanket lay in tatters nearby.
The attack, part of an ongoing Israeli retaliation against Hamas-sponsored suicide bombings, followed Sheikh Yassin's taunt that Israel's response to the recent Ashdod suicide bombers was weak, and that Hamas would gain strength as a result.
Israel said the "targeted killing" was punishment for dozens of suicide bombings by Hamas against Israeli civilians and a mean to thwart further attacks by Yassin's orders. Yassin's supporters and many countries condemned his assassination.
The Israel Defense Forces issued the following statement regarding the assassination:
- "This morning, in a security forces operation in the northern Gaza Strip, the IDF targeted a car carrying the head of the Hamas terror organization, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, and his aides.
- Yassin, responsible for numerous murderous terror attacks, resulting in the deaths of many civilians, both Israeli and foreign, was killed in the attack."
Jack Straw, the British Foreign Secretary, said: "All of us understand Israel's need to protect itself - and it is fully entitled to do that - against the terrorism which affects it, within international law. But it is not entitled to go in for this kind of unlawful killing and we condemn it. It is unacceptable, it is unjustified and it is very unlikely to achieve its objectives."
The White House equivocally condemned the action. Scott McClellan, a White House spokesman, said, "We are deeply troubled by this morning's incident," but he added, "Israel had the right to defend itself" and stressed that Yassin had been "personally involved in terrorism".
A State Department spokesman said: "This does not help efforts to resume progress towards peace."
US ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte stated that the USA was "deeply troubled" by the killing, and characterized Yassin as "the leader of a terrorist organization [...] who preached hatred, and glorified suicide bombings of buses, restaurants, and cafes."
As well as ordering the assassination, Ariel Sharon monitored its progress in real-time video transmitted from IDF helicopters and drones. He was jubilant about the killing, dismissing international criticism, "The state of Israel this morning hit the first and foremost leader of the Palestinian terrorist murderers."
Shaul Mofaz, his Defense Minister, branded Yassin "the Palestinian bin Laden" and said, "If we have to balance how many more terrorists Yassin would have sent, how many terrorist attacks he would have approved - if we weigh this on the scales, we acted rightly."
Avraham Poraz , Israel's Interior Minister and member of the centrist Shinui Party, said he believed the assassination of Yassin would "foster further hate and more attacks".
Shimon Peres, the Nobel peace prize winner and the leader of the opposition Labour Party, said, "I do not believe that we can eliminate terrorism by assassinating leaders. It was a misguided decision."
The Palestinian Authority declared three days of mourning and closed Palestinian schools. Flags at President Arafat's compound in Ramallah were lowered as he recited a Muslim prayer for Yassin and said, "May you join the martyrs and the prophets. To heaven, you martyr."
Hamas official Ismail Haniyeh said, "This is the moment Sheikh Yassin dreamed about". The Hamas leadership said Ariel Sharon had "opened the gates of hell." The Hamas political wing called for its members to assassinate Ariel Sharon whenever and wherever possible. However, they were unable to deilver serious attacks because of Israel Security Forces foiled many of their attempts.
Israeli forces killed four more Palestinians, including an 11-year-old boy, as protests flared across the occupied territories. About 200,000 people took to the streets of the Gaza Strip for Yassin's funeral as Israeli forces declared a national alert.
The UN Security Council failed to pass a resolution condemning Yassin's assassination after the United States vetoed it. Britain, Germany, and Romania abstained. The United States claimed that it vetoed the resolution because it did not include an explicit condemnation of Hamas terrorism.
- Reports on death
- "IDF strike kills Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin" (Israeli MFA)
- "Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin killed in Israeli airstrike" (Institute for Counter-Terrorism )
- Interactive Guide: Sheikh Yassin assassination - The Guardian
- Profiles of Yassin
- BBC Obituary
- Guardian Obituary
- Ahmed Yassin, leader of Hamas terrorist organization (Institute for Counter-Terrorism)
- Ahmed Yassin's Life and Death, from Al-Jazeera
- UN Response
- Collection of cartoons about Yassin assassination (Daryl Cagle 's cartoonists index)
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