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Israeli Citizens Brace for Repercussions from Yassin Assassination - 2004-03-24

Repercussions of the assassination of Hamas founder and spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin are reverberating throughout the Middle East. The United States has warned its citizens in Gaza to leave, and has advised against travel to Israel and the West Bank. The Israeli Foreign Ministry ordered its diplomats and their families home from missions in Qatar and Mauritania.

The Ben Yehuda pedestrian zone lies in the middle of Israeli Jerusalem. At first glance it looks normal. A musician plays Russian folk music as people pass by.

But Ben Yehuda had a violent past. It has been the scene of nearly a dozen violent attacks and attempted attacks going back to the time before the modern state of Israel existed. These days it seems a bit quieter than usual.

Soldiers patrol in pairs as pedestrians singly and in small groups go about their business. One of them is a 66-year-old businessman who gives his name only as Edward.

James:Do you have any concerns about the security situation?
Edward:What do you mean by that?
James:Well, as you know Hamas.
Edward: Yes I know that. Oh the security. Well, we are living in this condition for a long, long time. We can not [be] afraid not to go out from home. It is not possible. We do not [be] afraid.
James: So Ben Yehuda, this area we are in has been the scene of violence in the past.
Edward: That is right. This is the center here. It is our business here, our offices here, shops here. No, no, we have to continue. We have to continue.

Rotem, 19, has come to Ben Yehuda to do community service. She is well aware of the street and its bloody history. She knows any place in Israel can be dangerous, but especially a public place where large groups of people gather. She says she is very afraid of what might happen.

"Yeah, actually I am," she said. "Very worried. My mom is too. She called me yesterday and asked me not to be here today 'cause she is very afraid. I am very afraid to be here to be in Tel Aviv, you know, to be these places where there is a crowd. I do not know. I am just hoping to be home and safe."

"I am afraid, but I should not let them stop my life," she continued. "I should live my life [but] there is nothing I can do so I am not gonna stop living. I will just do what I can do and hope everything will be better."

Yuval, a 26-year-old office machine maintenance man is making the rounds to his clients. He approves of the assassination of Sheikh Yassin. He says it was the right thing to do to fight terrorism and, he says outsiders do not understand what daily life for Israelis is like.

Yuval: I think that what we do in Gaza is good for Israel. I think that this is the real war that we feel here and nobody out there, like Europe or everybody there, can feel what we feel here.
James: I see you are carrying a weapon.
Yuval: Yes.
James: Do you always carry a weapon?
Yuval: Yes. It is more comfortable to me.

People on Ben Yehuda street have a wary look in their faces and there is a sense of tension in the air. That is the case in many places throughout Israel as people brace for attacks by Palestinian militants, who have vowed revenge for the killing of Hamas leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.