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Hamas declares jihad on Israel after Yassin was killed
Updated: 2004-03-22 15:54

Senior Hamas leader Abdul Aziz al-Rantissi declared "open" war on Israel after the Islamist movement's spiritual guide, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, was killed in an Israeli helicopter strike in the Gaza Strip.

Palestinians hold the remains of the wheel chair of Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin after he was killed in Gaza City March 22, 2004. [Reuters]
"War is henceforth open with these murderers, these criminals and these terrorists," Rantissi said on a Gaza City street to a background of chants from hundreds of supporters calling for jihad, or holy war.

"They know it's opened, there will be no revenge, it's an open war," he added in English, warning the Israelis they would not enjoy peace.

"Inside Palestine, there will be no security for the Zionists and Jews," Rantissi vowed.

Israeli public radio said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had not only given the green light to eliminate Yassin but also personally supervised the attack.

"With this crime, Sharon, the despicable, sought to kill off the rights of the Palestinian people to a homeland, to holy places and to return" for refugees, Rantissi charged.

Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, the top Hamas political leader, speaks to the press in front of the morgue containing the body of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in Gaza city March 22, 2004, declaring open war on Israel. [Reuters]
"But I tell Sharon and other leaders of the Zionist gangs that they will not succeed."

Rantissi condemned what he called a "war against Islam" in Palestine and Iraq and urged Muslims "to wake from their sleep, to return to reason and make the earth tremble under the feet of the Zionists."

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat warned that the death of Sheikh Yassin, founder of the hardline group fighting Israeli occupation, would only foster greater violence.

"I strongly condemn this ignoble crime perpetrated by Israeli forces," Erakat told Al-Arabiya.

"The Israeli government has thus chosen the path of escalation and confrontation," he added, demanding international protection for the Palestianians.

Erakat said 64 Palestinians had fallen as "martyrs" during Israeli attacks since the start of March.

"This new crime must move the international community to think seriously about providing international protection for the Palestinian people."

Yassin died early Monday in an Israeli helicopter strike on the Gaza Strip, igniting immediate threats of reprisals from the military wing of Hamas, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.

"We, the Ezzedine al-Qassam leaders, have decided to take immediate reprisals, like an earthquake that will hit everywhere to destroy the Zionist presence," said the statement, adding that the response would be "unexpected."

"The Zionists would not have perpetrated such an act without obtaining the green light from the terrorist American administration and it must assume responsibility for this crime," it added.

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a radical offshoot of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, said "thousands" of Israelis would be targeted in retaliation, naming Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz as its prime target.

It called in a statement for all Palestinian factions to "proclaim a war without mercy against the Zionist people."

"We promise the Palestinian people that we will avenge the assassinations of the Nazi terrorists," added the statement.

The Israeli army said it had sealed off the West Bank and Gaza Strip Monday following the assassination.

"Following the attack, a complete closure was imposed on the Gaza Strip and the West Bank," Major Sharon Feingold said.

Israeli security services, including the police, have been placed on a high state of alert throughout the country.

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