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Hamas Vows Revenge after Israel Assassinates Group's Founder

Tens of thousands of Palestinians have marched in a funeral procession in Gaza for the founder and spiritual leader of the militant Hamas movement, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. An Israeli air strike killed the sheikh early Monday morning.

The crowd was angry as the funeral procession wove its way through Gaza City, carrying Sheikh Yassin's body and those of other people killed in the Israeli attack.

Sheikh Yassin was killed by a missile fired from an Israeli military helicopter, as he left a mosque near his home shortly before daybreak.

Seven other Palestinians, including two of his bodyguards, were also killed.

Hamas vowed to launch revenge attacks against Israel. Senior Hamas official Abdul Aziz Rantisi said his organization, which has carried out dozens of deadly attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians, will now attempt to assassinate Israeli political and military leaders.

The Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qureia, warned that the killing of Sheikh Yassin is likely to intensify Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "I believe that by this way [the Israelis] opened the road to action and reactions and escalating the situation," said the Palestinian official.

But such warnings were met with defiance by Israeli officials.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called Sheikh Yassin the mastermind of Palestinian "terror" and a "mass-murderer who was among Israel's greatest enemies." Mr. Sharon also said Israel's fight against terrorism will continue.

Israeli Government spokesman Avi Pazner says the killing of Sheikh Yassin was completely justified. "Israel has eliminated the biggest threat to peace and stability in the region," he said. "Sheikh Yassin was personally responsible for the deaths of hundreds and hundreds of Israelis. Justice has been done."

Following the attack on Sheikh Yassin, Palestinian witnesses say that Israeli soldiers shot and killed three Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, one carrying explosives and two others taking part in demonstrations.

Local residents in a West Bank refugee camp say a Palestinian radio journalist covering clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian stone throwers was also killed by Israeli army gunfire.