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Palestinians in Jordan Angered by Israeli Assassination of Hamas Founder - 2004-03-22

Jordan's King Abdullah has denounced Israel's assassination in Gaza of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the leader of the radical Palestinian group Hamas, calling it a crime that will only fuel more violence. Protests were organized following afternoon prayers.

Demonstrators marched in central Amman carried Korans, banners of condolences and pictures of Sheikh Yassin. They shouted our blood, our soul we sacrifice for Sheikh Yassin, for Palestine, for our Muslim brothers. Music shops along the route played Arab nationalist songs.

In the mostly Palestinian neighborhood of Wahdad, disbelief was quickly replaced by anger and despair. Thirty-five-year-old Farid Mohamed Hajaj is originally from Gaza. He remembers paying a visit to Sheikh Yassin when he visited relatives there about nine years ago. Farid says Sheikh Yassin was a man of religion and a symbol of the Palestinian struggle.

University student Danya Fahad, 18, says her family wept when they watched news of his death on television.

Jordanian-born Ahmed calls the assassination a cowardly act. He says Sheikh Yassin was a religious man in a wheelchair and he was killed as he was leaving the mosque after early morning prayers.

Sheikh Yassin was sentenced to life in prison by Israel in 1989 for establishing the militant group Hamas but later released in 1997. Israeli officials have made no secret in recent years about targeting the Hamas leader amid charges he was still promoting violence against Israel.

Political analyst Labib Kamhawi, himself a Palestinian, said killing the religious leader will unleash violence beyond Israel's borders. "A person like me who normally keeps a cool head and can articulate his emotions, I feel extremely angry and upset because I see no reason why we should be pushed and forced into positions that can only be translated by violence," he said.

Mr. Kamhawi says many in the Muslim world will also blame the U.S. government because of its close ties to Israel.

Palestinians account for more than half Jordan's population of 5.2 million. Many fled Israel after the 1948 and 1967 Arab-Israeli wars, but they still have relatives in Gaza and the West Bank.

Jordan was the second Arab state after Egypt to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1994. But Mr. Kamhawi said Jordan's condemnation of the Israeli action must be loud and clear. "If they don't take a step back, they cannot take at all a step forward. So either we're looking at a stalemate in terms of a relationship or it will get a little bit worse," he said.

Jordan's foreign minister flew to Cairo early in the day for emergency consultations with his Syrian and Egyptian counterparts.