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(mr100percent's note: This node is not the most impartial one I've ever noded, nor is it the most partial, though I tried not to leave anything out and made the effort to use mainstream sources. Avoid Highly Subjectice writeups, including ones of your own making....)

Sheikh Ahmad Ismail Yassin (also spelled Ahmed Yasin, Yaseen) has a last name that is probably best pronounced Ya-seen. It's a fairly common last name, taken from the name of one of the Surahs (chapters) of the Quran, and there seems to be more than one way to transliterate it. Al-Jazeera is spelling it Yasin, while I see most Western English news, like the BBC use "Yassin."

In Arabic, his name is شيخ احمد ياسن

Sheikh Yassen was born in Al-Jura, Palestine, when it was under the British Mandate. His birthyear differs according to different news sources. His passport listed his date of birth as January 1, 1929, but he claimed to be born in 1938, but some Palestinian sources say 1936. His birthplace no longer exists, the town was bulldozed in 1948 by Israelis, along with about 500 other towns since the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Today it is now the Israeli city of Ashkelon. His family was uprooted and relocated themselves to the al-Shati' refugee camp in Gaza, where he grew up. When he was 12, he suffered a spinal injury while playing football (soccer), which put him initially in crutches, but his condition worsened, leaving him a quadriplegic and in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

Yassin studied at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, a very prestigious Islamic university. He was influenced by Muslim Brotherhood teachers in the mid 1950’s where the movement was born, later joining in 1955. He trained there as a teacher, then returned to Gaza and worked there as a teacher, preacher, and community worker from 1957-64, then went back to Cairo to study at Ain Shams University, but was imprisoned for one month by Egyptian authorities for his membership in the banned organization, citing "subversive activity." That and a lack of money forced him to return to Gaza. He pulled out of politics, focusing on more religious issues, promoting Muslim beliefs and the return of an Islamic State. He worked as an Arabic teacher as well as an Islamic studies one, and gained the reputation of being one of the Gaza strip's most respected preachers. He taught until he retired early in 1984 due to his injuries. Sometime during his time in Gaza, he managed to raise 11 children in a three-room apartment in a Gaza City slum.

In 1973, Sheikh Yassin established Al Mujamaa Al-Islami (The Islamic Charitable League), which aimed to run health and educational programs, and grew until it controlled all religious institutions, including the Islamic University in Gaza. In 1982 the group was developed into Al-Majahadoun Al-Filastiniyun (Palestinian fighters), which had an anti-PLO stance. He was arrested for the first time by the Israelis in 1983, after the discovery of an arms cache in a mosque and was sentenced to 13 years of prison for both weapons possession and allegedly forming an underground organization. He served one year and was released on May 1985 in a prisoners exchange program with Ahmad Jibril's PFLP-GC (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine). However, he was not allowed to return to his position as the chairman of the Islamic Congress. In 1986 he set up a group to curb drug-dealers and monitor his opponents.

Sheikh Ahmed Yassin co-founded the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas with Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi in 1987, originally calling it the Palestinian Wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. Yassin became the Spiritual leader and a key figure of the organization. He drafted his own alternative to the PLO Covenant, in Aug. 1988, the ‘Hamas Charter Palestine.' There is an accusation by some that Israel supported Yassin's fledgling group, as they purportedly hoped it would counterbalance the PLO, or even lead to a Palestinian civil war, which would be favorable to Israel.

In 1989, about a year after the first Intifada, Sheikh Yassin was arrested by the Israelis during a roundup of 200 Hamas members and in 1991 sentenced to life imprisonment plus 15 years (~40 years total) in an Israeli court on charges of ordering the killing of Israeli soldiers and their Palestinian collaborators. He suffered various illnesses in prison, including chronic bronchitis and eye and ear infections, leaving him partially blind and deaf as well as quadriplegic. According to Al-Jazeera, two of his sons volunteered to accompany him in his cell as he was quadriplegic. He was eventually released in 1997, about eight years into his life sentence, in a trade-off with Jordan. The Israeli Mossad tried to assassinate Khaled Mashal, a Hamas leader in Jordan, but the attempt failed and two agents were caught. Yassin was released in exchange for the two agents, following the intervention of Jordan's late King Hussein . During his time in prison, his importance as a symbol of Palestinian resistance had grown, though he wasn't as popular or well-known as Yasser Arafat. One Arab commentator compared him to Nelson Mandela upon his release. Thousands turned up to see his return.

Yassin believed that if the Palestinians were divided, it would hurt them all and their cause, so he tried to maintain good relations with the Palestinian Authority and Yassir Arafat, and other Arab governments. He stressed the need for national unity, and publicly endorsed the Palestinian Authority by declaring that it was the only authority representing the Palestinian people. He received Rabbi Menachem Froman of the settlement of Tekoa on October 14, 1997, where presumably they discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, he has also been placed repeatedly under house arrest by the Palestinian Authority, under the charge of provoking and initiating widespread clashes and activities in the Occupied Palestinian areas, which triggered further widespread clashes each time by the Palestinians who supported him, putting up fierce resistance.

Sheikh Yassin was a popular man. His organizations established funds to establish free schools, clinics, and hospitals. Hamas, despite its status as an illegal terrorist organization, did have other wings aside from its Military one. Al Mujamaa Al-Islami folded into Hamas, becoming its charitable branch; ; providing free welfare services to poor Palestinian families. Time Magazine once interviewed Palestinian families, asking why they support him. A man with 15 children brought the reporter to Yassin's white stucco house in a shabby part of Gaza, saying how he walked there from 3 miles away, hearing that the Sheikh never refused anyone. The bodyguard at Yassin's door sent them down the block to Hamas' main charity center with a chit authorizing funds for treatment and medicine. The Palestinian man concluded that only Hamas really cared about the welfare of ordinary Palestinians. "They are our brothers," she said, "because they help the people." A scene like this has happened repeatedly, which is one reason why Hamas and Sheikh Yassin gained popular support by so many.

Up until the first Intifada, Yassin didn't advocate direct struggle with Israel, instead keeping the Muslim Brotherhood strategy of preaching and social work, which was what his organization was doing. However, he felt pushed to do something, despite the fact that fighting Israel would endanger his whole organization and whatever good works it was involved in. He solved that by creating Hamas as an ostensibly separate body. He proved himself a powerful inspiration, making Hamas into a religious and military organization that became far more successful and popular than the secularist groups like Arafat's PLO, which had many charges of corruption spanning over 2 decades. He justified the change by saying that the reality of the situation mandated a more active religious struggle. He offered more than the PLO ever could, offering social action with more pure morals, adding the promise of martyrdom and the rewards of the afterlife. To disillusioned Palestinians, this sort of idea was exactly what they were looking for.

Yassin continued to argue that Israel was an affront to Islam by seizing the land from the Palestinians and occupying Jerusalem. Palestine was the "property of Muslims till Judgment Day" and that no ruler had the right to give it up. (Which sounds like an interesting opposite of the Zionist philosophy) "The so-called peace path is not peace and it is not a substitute for jihad and resistance," Sheikh Yassin repeatedly said. He felt that the peace talks were worthless, he didn't trust the Israelis to keep their word. He criticized the 2003 Aqaba summit where US and Israeli leaders and Mahmoud Abbas met. He often criticized the Palestinian Authority for discounting the armed resistance option in its dealings with Israel. He did, however, endorse the 2003 ceasefire, blaming the Israelis for its collapse. Time and again, he advocated an Islamic state in all of Palestine and defended the people's right to resist the occupation.

In spite of all that, Yassin was seen as a moderating force within Hamas. In July 2000, Sheikh Yassin offered Israel a truce. "If Israel withdraws completely from the West Bank and Gaza and it removes all of its settlements, I will make a truce with it. You have my word for it," Yassin declared. He also added that if Israel stops attacking Palestinian civilians, Hamas will stop attacking Israeli civilians. A few months before his death, Sheikh Yassin himself announced that the fight would be discontinued after the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. Around that time, he offered a “hudna” (truce) for 30 years. There are also reports by Reuters that he offered a truce in 1997, after being released from prison, according to an Israeli official who helped carry out the prisoner exchange.

A Time Magazine reporter managed to interview Sheikh Yassin personally before his death:

No Hamas leader wants to go on record renouncing the organization's strident charter, especially the hard-liners who now dominate Hamas' board of directors. But last summer founder Sheik Yassin, in his elliptical way, sketched out for me how Hamas might consider a more accommodating solution. The sheik was cadaverously frail, and he had been ill for two weeks when I gained a brief audience at his house. His high-treble voice was so faint I had to lean awkwardly close to hear. But he remained the movement's ultimate authority. While he leveled boiler-plate criticism at the "racist" Israeli state and the religious rationale for Hamas' stand, he hinted there was room for compromise. In pursuit of Hamas' goals, he said, "you don't jump there in one jump." Some can be achieved, he explained, through "stages, phases. We don't have a problem reaching a phase suitable to the current situation and leaving the rest to history and future generations."

By January, Yassin had turned those vague words into an official position. Hamas would never say it accepts Israel's existence. But the Koranic rules of hudna, or cease-fire, allow for an indefinite halt in the armed struggle: once the Palestinians gain a state in the pre-1967 territories, Hamas could decide to end the violent struggle and leave it to future generations to decide whether it should ever be resumed. In one of his last public statements, recorded on the Hamas website in January, Yassin even hinted that a Gaza pullout could reopen the door to negotiations, something Hamas previously had consistently tried to thwart. "If the Zionist entity completely evacuates the Gaza Strip," he said, "we can start a new phase of calmness in order to discuss the issues of Jerusalem, the West Bank, the prisoners and the refugees"--references to the longstanding list of items that negotiations are supposed to settle.

Sheikh Yassin has been blamed for many things due to his role as founder and spiritual leader of Hamas. To sum up, he was arrested for weapons possession and creating an underground organization before Hamas, was arrested and charged with the death of an Israeli soldier, and accused by Israel of ordering and supporting terrorism, including suicide attacks. However, I should note anyway that Hamas began suicide attacks in 1994, in retaliation for 30 worshippers being machine gunned to death at a mosque by Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish extremist. Yassin was in prison at the time, and it's been argued whether he willed it or not from his confinement. (I think it's doubtful, considering Israel's reputation of Palestinian prisons being black holes, but Yassin has supported suicide bombings since then, so I guess it makes little difference). He gave his blessings to later attacks.

In 2003, Israel intensified their assassinations in Palestine, also known as "targeted killing," and said that the top Hamas leaders were "marked for death," openly calling for Yassin's assassination, and saying that he "deserved to die." Just the threat alone made 5,000 Palestinians take to the streets in Gaza in a demonstration. On September 6 of that year, the Israeli Air force dropped a 550-pound bomb (or was it several missiles? Sources conflict) on a Gaza building where Hamas leaders were gathering, but Yassin escaped with a small wound on his hand. Fifteen Palestinians were also wounded as a result. Interestingly enough, Yassin seemed sort of stoic about the whole matter. Instead of going into hiding, he went to his home in the Sabra neighborhood of Gaza city, with a few bodyguards. He was aware that he was a public target, but he didn't alter his lifestyle much on account of it, taking an "it's inevitable" outlook. Unlike most of his comrades, he didn't go underground.

During 2003-2004, Sheikh Yassin became involved in Egyptian-mediated ceasefire talks with other Palestinian factions and PMs Mahmoud Abbas and Ahmed Qurei. In January 2004, Yassin said that Hamas was making every effort to kidnap Israeli soldiers to use as bargaining chips in order to release Palestinians who were in Israeli jails, of which there are somewhere over 5000.

On March 22, 2004, just after dawn prayers, three Israeli helicopters fired three missiles at Sheikh Yassin on his way home. He was killed instantly, along with 9 other Palestinians leaving the mosque. 17 Palestinians also leaving the mosque were wounded, including 2 of his sons. Arab television stations immediately started showing footage of the attack, including a mangled wheelchair.

Reaction was quick and from just about everywhere. The news that Israel had killed a 67-year old paralyzed Palestinian in a wheelchair without a trial and as well as killing several innocent bystanders simultaneously outside a mosque was a pretty awful story, regardless of who you ask. Yassir Arafat condemned the killing of a "moderate" and an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson replied by comparing Yassin to Osama Bin Laden. Israel was criticized internationally for their "illegal assassination" and for the innocent casualties as well as "fighting terrorism with more terrorism." It was soon discovered that Ariel Sharon had personally ordered and overseen the mission to murder Yassin.

The US initially didn't make any comment, aside from the statement "Israel has a right to defend herself" but several hours after international condemnation set in (too many groups and countries to list here), changed its tune by saying it was "deeply troubled" over the events. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice said on NBC's Today show that "it is very important that everyone step back now and try now to be calm in the region. There is always a possibility of a better day in the Middle East, and some of the things being talked about by the Israelis... might provide new opportunities." Media analyst Sherri Muzher opined, "So the good ideas will come from Israel, which just assassinated Yassin? I read that as implying that if Palestinians react, they will be held responsible for any fallout. Unbelievable.

"One thing is certain about the killing of the blind and quadriplegic Yassin: A peace agreement that once seemed unlikely now seems unreachable in the near future. Sharon is not stupid; his government expects retaliation. And the Israeli Defense Force will use that retaliation as an excuse to kill more Palestinians. It is a script that has played itself out for the last 31/2 years..."

In a spontaneous outpouring of rage and grief, tens of thousands of Palestinians, led by hundreds of gunmen, poured into the streets of Gaza City after hearing of Yassin's death. Flames and black smoke were coming out from different parts of Gaza as a result of burning tires in the main streets of the city. Yassin's funeral drew somewhere around 200,000 mourners, only hours after his death, where mourners walked 3km (2 miles) to bury Sheikh Yassin in the Martyr's Graveyard. Reuters called it "the biggest outpouring of grief Gazans could remember." "I cried today as I never cry. I do not recall crying so much when I lost my own father," remarked a Palestinian taxi driver.

Hamas cofounder Abdel-Aziz Al-Rantisi stated "Sharon has opened the gates to Hell..." while many commentators feared that this would provoke much, much more terrorism after the killing of a popular figure. Americans and Israelis both feared a violent response against them, and indeed, a suicide attack in Israel was thwarted shortly after, half of Israel's remaining tours were suddenly cancelled, and US's allies both in Iraq and outside distanced themselves. SCIRI, an Iraqi group that is "allied" with the US and promoted to the Iraqi governing council, led a protest on the streets chanting "Death to Israel, death to America! Your blood, Sheikh Yassin, will liberate Palestine!" and American soldiers once again came under fire in Iraq. British foreign secretary Jack Straw led the international condemnation of the killing of Yasin, saying: "It is unacceptable, it is unjustified and it is very unlikely to achieve its objective." Virtually every leader in the Arab world condemned the assassination, but the Arab league, which didn't do anything in the wake of the Israeli invasion of Palestine in 1948, or the Iran-Iraq war from 1980-1988, or the War on Iraq 2003, didn't even condemn Israel for Yassin's assassination, choosing to avoid the issue (some say in fear of confronting the US).

In the United Nations, a non-binding Resolution was drafted to condemn Israel for the assassination of Sheikh Yassin, but was blocked by the US's sole dissenting veto, because it insisted on changing the text to include a denunciation of Hamas for its "terrorist activities" and claiming the resolution was unbalanced otherwise. The resolution failed due to the US veto, despite reaching a vote of 11 to 1 with the US as the sole opposition. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan publicly condemned the assassination, adding that extra-judicial killings are against international law. He called on the government of Israel "to immediately end this practice." Political cartoons lambasted Sharon, depicting him as hitting a hornet's nest.

The Associated Press covered the reaction of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani :

Sistani said, "We call upon the sons of the Arab and Islamic nations to close ranks, unite and work hard for the liberation of the usurped land and restore rights. This morning, the occupying Zionist entity committed an ugly crime against the Palestinian people by killing one of their heroes, scholar martyr Ahmed Yassin."

I like and agree with Middle Eastern Commentator Juan Cole's analysis of the situation (which is a few paragraphs, but very insightful):

Sistani is a man who can at will put hundreds of thousands of demonstrating Iraqis into the streets of Baghdad and Basra, posing a severe threat to US and UK troops and officials. And Sharon has managed to enrage him....

"In fact, a lot of Sistani's feistiness and determination that Iraq is not going to end up with a long-term Western occupation derives from his low opinion of the Israeli treatment of Palestinians. The US can to some significant degree thank Ariel Sharon's iron fist for the distrust and suspicion with which their presence in Iraq is greeted....

Sistani is wrong to consider Ahmed Yassin a hero. His ideas were bigoted and hateful, and the tactic of killing civilians is despicable (I'm not favorably disposed in general toward killing anyone at all if it can be avoided). But Middle Easterners all know one thing that the American public, on the whole, ignores: Israel is assiduously stealing Palestinian land, tossing Palestinians out of their homeland, and oppressing Palestinians. Even Sharon's planned unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, which may or may not take place, will just result in more colonization of the West Bank. Israel's policies toward the West Bank are unparalleled in the contemporary world. There are countries that are attempting to annex territories and populations that would rather have independence. There are no other countries that insist on occupying a people whom they do not wish to absorb, but only to steal from. These policies do not justify killing civilians. But they explain why some misguided persons might resort to such a desperate and frankly evil measure. The Israelis engaged in terrorism in the 1940s when it was they who feared losing their homeland.

Everyone should be clear that murdering Yassin bestowed no operational advantage on Israel. Yassin was in the political and religious wing of Hamas. He did not plan or carry out tactical terrorist actions, though he certainly approved of them as a form of national liberation struggle (on the other hand he did sometimes talk of trying to achieve a 100-year truce with Israel; that aspect of this complex figure is gone, opening the way for a new generation of violent young men to come to the fore in Hamas, with no restraint whatsoever on their thirst for vengeance). Yassin was an old half-blind man in a wheel chair. Israel could have arrested him and tried him anytime Sharon chose. Sharon could even have had him executed after a fair trial, staying within the bounds of the rule of law. Who could have objected to a terrorist being tried and sentenced? To take him out, using American missiles, was just a fancy way of murdering him, destined to produce more hatred against the United States at a time when we don't need that. It is a form of state terrorism, designed to instill terror in a civilian population. Sharon is nothing more than a mafia don who rubs out other mafia dons, and doesn't care how many innocent women and children get sprayed by the machine gun fire (were Yassin's 7 companions all guilty of capital crimes? How would we know without a trial?) The lot of them belong in jail.

The New York Times wrote its own editorial:
It's hard to see how his martyrdom will make Israel any safer. Hamas will now redouble its efforts to send human torpedos into Israel. The Palestinian Authority will be even less inclined to confront terrorists in its midst and less able to coax Hamas into observing a cease-fire. Moderate Arabs everywhere have been reacting with dismay and despair to Sheik Yassin's killing. The U.S. war on terrorism may also suffer as moderate Arab leaders feel compelled to distance themselves further from Washington... Ultimately, any argument that the assassination was "worth it" is undermined by the fact that both sides will sink deeper into their separate passions.
"Israel will find out that there is a man who can kill more Israelis when he is dead than when he was alive. And that man is Sheikh Yassin."
- Islamic university professor

On March 31, 2004, a mob in Iraq killed and mutilated the bodies of four American security workers in Iraq. A group known as "Phalanges of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin" took responsibility, calling the grisly killings a "gift to the Palestinian people. By that point, Iraqis, Arabs, and other people of the world had already felt that America was synonymous with Israel. The US immediately responded by attacking Fallujah, leaving over 600 dead.Within a week, Shia cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr declared that he should be considered the "striking arm" of Hamas "because the fate of Iraq and Palestine is the same."

Yassin is survived by his wife Halima and their 11 children.

"If I am killed there will arise a thousand like me."

An Al-Jazeera slideshow of the assassination (with a corpse shown in one or two slides) is available at : http://english.aljazeera.net/InPictures/ShaikhYasin22-3-20041.htm

Sources and Obituaries (conflicting)-
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1101040405-605511,00.html (free mirror at http://www.mafhoum.com/press7/187P58.htm )

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