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World leaders warn Yassin killing may have buried Mideast peace
Updated: 2004-03-23 10:47

World leaders warned Israel its assassination of Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin may have buried the Middle East peace process as the United States said it was troubled by the killing, but declined to condemn its ally.

Governments around the world urged both sides to show restraint, fearful the killing would ignite a new spiral of violence in the region.

Amid fury in the Palestinian territories, which drew thousands onto the streets, Arab countries led initial outrage at the killing of the blind, wheelchair-bound, 67-year-old sheikh in Gaza City by an Israeli attack helicopter at dawn Monday.

European Union and Asian leaders warned the attack could herald a dangerous new phase in the festering conflict, unresolved since the creation of Israel in 1948.

The 15-nation EU, the biggest contributor of international aid to the Palestinian Authority, has long urged restraint from both sides in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

French President Jacques Chirac said the EU unreservedly condemned "all acts of violence, especially when they are acts contrary to international law".

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Israel had the right to defend itself against terrorism. "But it is not entitled (to go) for this kind of unlawful killing and we therefore condemn it," he said.

"We are very concerned," added German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. "Along with the EU we have always rejected these killings and described them as unacceptable."

White House national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said Washington did not have advance warning of the attack and repeated previous US calls for calm, while the US State Department said it was "deeply troubled" by Yassin's killing.

"It is very important that everyone step back and try now to be calm in the region," Rice said.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Israel had the right to defend itself, adding:"We do think this event increases tension and it doesn't help efforts to resume progress towards peace."

Russia said it was deeply worried Yassin's assassination could fuel new violence. "(This) could sabotage efforts to restart negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis," foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said.

Moscow urged both sides to renew their commitment to the implementation of the "roadmap" for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In New York, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said Yassin's killing was illegal and an obstacle to peace.

"I do condemn the targeted assassination of Sheikh Yassin and the others who died with him," Annan said.

In Ottawa, Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham warned the peace process could be set back.

"There are ways that will contribute to everlasting peace, this was clearly not one of them," Graham said.

In the West Bank town of Ramallah, the Palestinian leadership declared three days of official mourning and "condemned this fresh Israeli crime, the assassination of Sheikh Yassin and other citizens in front of a mosque in Gaza".

An estimated 200,000 Palestinians flooded the streets of Gaza City for Yassin's funeral -- the largest demonstration in the Gaza Strip since the start of the Palestinian uprising, or intifada, over three years ago.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas meanwhile vowed all-out war against Israel.

Egypt and Jordan, two moderate Arab governments which have peace treaties with Israel, joined more radical states in condemning the killing.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak cancelled his government's participation in 25th anniversary celebrations for the Camp David accords with Israel, and thousands demonstrated on university campuses around the country.

Mubarak said the Israeli assassination "aborts all efforts" to revive the Middle East peace process, including those of Egypt.

Saudi Arabia joined the chorus of condemnation, accusing Israel of killing the chances for peace and urging international protection for Palestinians.

In Jordan, King Abdullah II, who only last week made an unannounced visit to Israel, was quick to condemn Yassin's killing. "This crime will lead to more escalation, violence and instability," he warned.

Thousands took to the streets of both Amman and the kingdom's Palestinian refugee camps.

In Morocco, King Mohammed VI condemned the "vile aggression that claimed the life of Sheikh Yassin and a group of Palestinian citizens", official news agency Map said.

Iraq's US-installed interim Governing Council warned the killing could fuel violence in Iraq and endanger the region.

In the pro-Western Gulf state of Kuwait, Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah predicted the killing would ignite more violence.

In Qatar, where the US military's main regional headquarters are based, the foreign ministry accused Israel of trying to "destroy all chances for peace".

The secretary general of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Abdulrahman al-Attiyah, urged the world's nations to provide "international protection for the Palestinians, who are subjected daily to all kinds of state terrorism".

Among more radical Arab leaders, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad denounced the killing as a "dangerous escalation" and "an odious crime".

And the Libyan foreign ministry denounced "the hideous crimes committed by Israel in an arbitrary and indiscriminate way against the Palestinian people".

Iran also condemned the killing as an act of state-sponsored terrorism against the Palestinian people.

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