- The Washington Times - Friday, March 26, 2004

From combined dispatches

CAIRO — Cities around the Islamic world yesterday erupted in fresh protests against the killing of Palestinian militant Sheik Ahmed Yassin, with thousands of people pouring out of mosques following weekly prayers to denounce Israel and the United States.

Arab fury has shown few signs of abating less than a week after Israeli helicopters gunned down the 67-year-old wheelchair-bound founder of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas as he emerged from morning prayers in Gaza City.

Street protests were reported in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iraq and Nigeria. In Afghanistan, 200 clerics, students and Hamas supporters in Kabul denounced the killing as “an act of terror,” chanting, “Death to the Zionist regime of [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon], death to America and Bush.”

In Jerusalem, Hamas yesterday delivered new threats of revenge for the killing, but Israeli security forces foiled a seaborne attack on a settlement, shooting dead two attackers in wet suits, and a militant was killed in the West Bank when his explosives blew up prematurely.

Thousands of Hamas supporters marched in two West Bank cities yesterday, threatening revenge. In Ramallah, crowds shouted warnings for Israelis to prepare body bags.

Elsewhere in the West Bank, Israeli soldiers on patrol in Bethlehem shot and killed a Palestinian during a brief clash with dozens of youths hurling stones near Rachel’s Tomb, the holy site revered by Jews as the burial site of the biblical matriarch.

In Cairo, hundreds of protesters gathered in the central courtyard of Al-Azhar mosque, surrounded by thousands of police and anti-riot forces mobilized to prevent demonstrators from moving into the street.

Street protests are banned in Egypt under emergency laws enacted after the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat by Islamist militants.

“Vile Sharon,” demonstrators shouted. “The blood of Yassin will not be shed in vain.”

In the attack in the Gaza Strip, Palestinians in wet suits and flippers and armed with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades emerged from the Mediterranean and fired toward a beachfront Israeli settlement, the army said yesterday.

Israel’s tightened security has foiled several attacks in recent days.

On Wednesday, soldiers stopped a 16-year-old Palestinian boy, Hussam Abdo, with a bomb vest strapped to his body at a crowded West Bank checkpoint. During a tense standoff, the boy removed the vest at gunpoint before it was detonated by the army.

Hussam remained in Israeli custody yesterday, but military sources said he might be released in coming days. Three teenage friends of the youth also were taken into custody, their parents said.

One of them is a cousin of 16-year-old Sabih Abu Saud, who became the youngest Palestinian suicide bomber when, after being cornered by Israeli soldiers, he blew himself up near a West Bank checkpoint in November.

The Israeli security crackdown has had the effect of slowing international humanitarian aid to Palestinian relief centers in Gaza, U.N. officials said in New York yesterday.

“For the last three weeks, nearly all U.N. and other humanitarian agency vehicles have been prohibited from crossing through the Erez checkpoint,” U.N. officials said in a statement. In addition, food containers cannot pass through the only commercial crossing point in Gaza.

The heads of the U.N. relief agencies said they recognize Israel’s “legitimate security concerns,” but said the relief operations account for half of Gaza’s essential social services.

“Any cutbacks will lead to a further deterioration of the already fragile humanitarian situation in Gaza,” they warned.

Palestinian and Arab leaders also criticized the United States for its veto Thursday of a United Nations Security Council resolution that would have condemned the killing of Sheik Yassin. U.S. officials denounced the resolution as unbalanced because it failed to condemn Hamas terrorism as well.

Betsy Pisik contributed to this report from New York.

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