Israel’s killing of Yassin puts U.S. in line of fire

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Arab rage at Israel’s assassination of the Hamas founder quickly spilled into Iraq yesterday, signaling that the killing of the Palestinian militant could undermine U.S. policies and interests across the region.

Protesters at two demonstrations against the U.S.-led coalition — one in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and the other in the southern city of Basra — chanted in support of Sheik Ahmed Yassin.

“Do not worry, Palestine. Iraq will avenge the assassination of Sheik Yassin,” protesters in Mosul chanted.

Israeli and U.S. officials stressed that Washington had not been told about the assassination plan. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher called the killing “deeply troubling.”

But the close political and military ties between the two countries — many Arab press outlets said U.S.-made missile launchers apparently had been used in the attack — almost certainly will make Americans a target for revenge.

Hamas officials yesterday for the first time directly threatened the United States and suggested that they may seek allies to retaliate against it and Israel. In the past, the group had not specifically targeted U.S. assets.

“The Zionists didn’t carry out their operation without getting the consent of the terrorist American administration and [the United States] must take responsibility for this crime,” Hamas said in a statement. “All the Muslims of the world will be honored to join in on the retaliation for this crime.”

Mr. Boucher said the threats “just show once again that [Hamas] is a terrorist group and that they’re bent on violence and on terrorism.”

In Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak responded by canceling plans to send a delegation to ceremonies marking the 25th anniversary of the Camp David accords, the first peace treaty between Israel and an Arab nation.

“This will have reactions all across the Middle East,” Mr. Mubarak said, adding that the Israelis “did not consider that reaction before they did this deed.”

Even before the killing, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was virtually moribund, but the U.S. government has hopes for progress elsewhere in the region, from the reconstruction of Iraq to President Bush’s Greater Middle East Initiative promoting political and social change in the Arab world.

“The problem with the planned killing of someone like Sheik Yassin is that it will very likely only lead to a surge of support for hard-line Islamist movements, not just in the West Bank and Gaza, but across the Arab world,” said Lewis Roth.

Mr. Roth is the assistant executive director of Americans for Peace Now, an American-Jewish group that has opposed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s tough line against Palestinian militants.

Several members of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council expressed alarm over the killing.

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