Immediate Chain of Events after Yassin Killing

DEBKAfile 22 March 2004

Israel goes on peak terror alert after the Hamas, echoed by Fatah, issued furious revenge threats - "Israel has opened the gates of hell" - for the early morning helicopter-borne missile attack that killed Hamas leader and 8 companions outside Gaza City mosque Monday, March 22.

The threats pointed to Palestinian and world Islamic retaliation against Israeli and Jewish targets inside the country and overseas. They reverberated along the procession of tens of thousands of mourners at the sheikh’s funeral in Gaza City.

Monday night, Hizballah responded to the call by directing heavy cross-border missile-mortar bombardment of IDF positions for almost three hours. Israeli air force and artillery hit Hizballah firing positions along the border and further inside Lebanese territory.

In Jaffa, an Arab passenger went on a stabbing rampage on a local bus, injuring three before escaping. During the day, Jerusalem’s Gilo district was fired on from the direction of neighboring Beit Jala or Bethlehem. In the morning, a Qassam missile exploded at the Erez Gaza crossing. A Palestinian went for passersby with an axe on Ramat Gan’s Ben Gurion Street, wounding three. He was caught.

The decision to kill Yassin, founder of the Hamas whose declared objective was to destroy “Jewish sovereignty” in the Middle East and establish an Islamic republic in its stead, was taken by the Israeli cabinet two days after the March 14 double suicide attack that killed 10 Israelis in Ashdod port. It was decided then that no terrorist, high or low ranking, would be immune to Israeli attack.

Monday night, after Yassin’s death, an Israeli senior defense source did not deny that “it may be coming closer to Yasser Arafat.”

The White House response was supportive. Presidential national security adviser Condoleezza Rice commented: Let us remember Hamas is a terrorist organization and Sheikh Yassin himself was heavily involved in terrorism. She denied Washington had had advance warning of the assassination or was involved in any way.

Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon made his first comment to an afternoon meeting of his Likud Knesset faction. He promised that the Yassin killing was not the end and defended Israel’s “natural right” to fight its proclaimed enemies. This would be done day by day. Defense minister Shaul Mofaz provided statistics: Yassin personally sent hundreds of suicide to kill Israeli civilians. The Hamas caused 407 Israeli deaths, 40 percent of all victims of the Palestinian Intifada.

“Change” ministers opposed the action when it was put to the cabinet. Opposition Labor leader, former prime minister Shimon Peres, said he too would have voted against the operation. Another former Labor prime minister, Ehud Barak, warmly defended the Yassin killing, slamming Israeli left-wing criticism as “misconceived, defeatist and encouragement for terrorism.”

In Brussels, UK FM Jack Straw sharp condemned Israeli for “unlawful, unacceptable and unjust” killing. He spoke in Brussels where he is attending EU discussion on ways to fight terror – in Europe. London police meanwhile urged British citizens to inform on suspected terrorists. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak called off the parliamentary delegation supposed to travel to Jerusalem for the joint celebration of the 25th anniversary of Egyptian-Israeli peace accord. In Baghdad, an anti-Israeli Muslim rally took place.