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last updated Jan. 5, 2010 1:37 PM (EST+7)
Ahmed Yassin
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Palestinian politics Hamas Muslim Brotherhood targeted assassination
Sheikh Ahmed Yassin was co-founder, along with Abdel Aziz Rantisi, of the Hamas movement and served as the Hamas spiritual leader.

News on Ahmed Yassin
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Activist: Slain Hamas leader engaged in long-term Israel truce talksNov. 15, 2012
ANALYSIS: Hamas steals Abbas thunder with prisoner dealOct. 12, 2011


Yassin was born in 1938 in al-Jura, a village near the town of Majdal during the British Mandate period of Palestine (today the city of Ashkelon in Israel). He and his family became refugees during the 1948 war and fled to Gaza after their village was destroyed. A sports injury from when he was twelve years old left him quadriplegic and he was forced to use a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

After completing secondary school in Gaza, Yassin studied at al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt. As a student Yassin joined the Muslim Brotherhood. During this period he formed the belief that Palestine was an Islamic land “consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgment Day” and that no Arab leader had the right to give up any part of this territory.

After returning to Gaza, Yassin founded the Islamic Centre in Gaza in 1973. In 1979 he founded the Islamic organization which, at the time of its foundation, dealt mostly with welfare while supporting the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood. The organization undertook activities actions against Israeli rule in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

In 1984 Yassin was arrested and sentenced to 13 years in jail for illegal possession of arms, the establishment of a military organization and calls for the annihilation of Israel. Yassin acknowledged that he founded an organization of religious activists with the goal of fighting non-religious factions in the territories and carrying out operations against Israel. He was imprisoned until May 1985. He was released as part of a prisoner exchange deal between Israel and the ‘Ahmed Jibril’ organization.

Yassin received widespread prominence during the first Intifada of 1987. At this time, the Palestinian Islamist movement adopted the name Hamas and Yassin became its spiritual leader.

In 1989, Yassin was arrested by the Israeli authorities and sentenced to life imprisonment for ordering the killing of Palestinians who had allegedly collaborated with the Israeli army. He was released in 1997, during a trade-off with Jordan for two Israeli agents involved in an assassination attempt on a Hamas leader in Jordan. The condition for the trade-off was that he would refrain from continuing to call for suicide bombings against Israel.

Yassin opposed the peace process between the Palestinians and the Israel. Instead he supported armed resistance against Israel. During his time in prison, his importance as a symbol of Palestinian resistance continued to grow.

Following his release, Yassin resumed his leadership of Hamas. He resumed his calls for attacks on Israel, violating the condition of his release. Yassin believed that a clash between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) would be harmful to the interests of the Palestinian people and therefore sought to maintain relations between the two groups. Despite this, he was repeatedly placed under house arrest by the PA. Each time, he was eventually released in response to extended demonstrations by his supporters.

Yassin criticized the outcome of the 2003 Aqaba Summit which had been attended by Israeli and US leaders, as well as the then Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas who pledged an end to violence. Hamas and other resistance groups did initially declare a temporary truce with Israel, but it fell apart in July 2003, after Israeli forces killed two Hamas members. This was in retaliation to the suicide bombing of a Jerusalem bus that left 21 people dead that was claimed by Hamas.

On September 6, 2003, the Israeli air force attempted to kill Yassin while he was at the house of a Hamas colleague in Gaza City. Israeli officials later confirmed that Yassin was the target of the attack. Following the attack, Yassin vowed revenge, stating that “Hamas leaders wish to be martyrs and are not scared of death.” He made no attempt to guard himself from further attacks or hide his location. He also asserted that the resistance would continue until victory was achieved.

Yassin was killed during an attack by an Israeli helicopter gunship on March 22, 2004 while he was leaving the morning prayers. The missiles killed Yassin and both of his bodyguards, along with nine bystanders. More than a dozen people were injured in the operation, including two of Yassin’s sons. The operation was part of ongoing Israeli actions against Hamas leaders and infrastructure. The assassination was condemned by Yassin’s supporters as well as several heads of state.
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