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Arab World Condemns Killing of Hamas Founder - 2004-03-22

The Arab world is condemning Monday's rocket attack in Gaza that killed the founder of the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Religious and government officials appeared on Arab television stations calling the assassination a crime, saying Israel has chosen a path of escalation and confrontation.

Palestinian leaders have asked for international protection.

The Israeli government has made it clear it plans to track down and assassinate Islamic militants it believes are associated with a series of suicide bombings in Israel.

Consequently, leaders of the militant group Hamas said, Monday's killing of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in Gaza did not come as a surprise. However, according to Hamas official Osama Abu Hamden in Beirut, such killings are destroying any chance for peace.Mr. Hamden says no one will be able to control Palestinian reaction to Monday's assassination.

“I believe even Hamas can't control the situation because the Sheikh Ahmed Yassin wasn't just a leader for Hamas, he was a leader for Hamas and a Palestinian leader. And, what will happen will not be under the control of Hamas, just Hamas. I believe all the groups, all the Palestinian groups will react with this,” says Mr. Hamden. “We have received from all the Palestinian groups what we can say shows not just emotions, condolences, they were talking about a real reaction against the Israelis because of this crime.”

Sheikh Ahmed Yassin was sentenced in 1989 to life in prison for founding Hamas and for encouraging acts of violence against Israel. The wheelchair bound cleric was released in 1997.

Israeli officials recently announced that the cleric was being targeted for assassination for allegedly continuing to encourage acts of violence against Israelis.

A senior Arab government official told VOA that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has taken what the official called the worst political step in his life.

And Mr. Hamden says only international condemnation will help defuse Palestinian anger. “I believe now is the time for the people to condemn, for the United States, for the Europeans, for the whole world to condemn what Sharon did,” he says. “To take action against Sharon and the Israeli government. And, this may bring the Palestinians to believe there is something new going on. Without this, I believe no one can ask the Palestinians to wait just for nothing, only for the mercy of Sharon, which we saw today, early morning.”

The assassination of the militant leader follows last week's Palestinian suicide bombing that killed 10 people in the Israeli port of Ashdod. Hamas was one of two militant groups that claimed responsibility.