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Friday, January 16, 2004

"We will find him in the tunnels and we will eliminate him"

Israel issues blunt warning to founder of Hamas
Associated Press: JERUSALEM - Israel will hunt and kill the founder of Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, in retaliation for a deadly attack on Israeli border guards, Israel's deputy defense minister said in the bluntest warning yet against leaders of the Islamic militant group.

Yassin, a quadriplegic, did not try to hide Friday, making his way to a Gaza City mosque near his home in a wheelchair pushed by an assistant.

(AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

"We do not fear the threat of death," Yassin, wrapped in a brown blanket, told reporters outside the mosque. "We will not bow to pressure and resistance will continue until the occupation is destroyed."

Yassin said he was not personally involved in planning attacks, denying allegations by Israeli security officials that he had approved Wednesday's bombing in which a female suicide bomber killed four Israelis at the Erez crossing into Israel.

The Israeli officials also said Yassin issued a religious ruling allowing women to become bombers, after Hamas initially recruited only male assailants.

Israeli security officials met Wednesday at the Defense Ministry to weigh a response to the latest Hamas bombing. One official said targeted killings of senior Hamas members are likely to resume after a lull of several months.

Deputy Defense Minister Zeev Boim said Yassin is a key target.

"Sheik Yassin is marked for death, and he should hide himself deep underground where he won't know the difference between day and night. And we will find him in the tunnels, and we will eliminate him," Boim told Israel Army Radio on Thursday night.

However, several security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Yassin was not mentioned specifically in the discussions at the Defense Ministry. Killing the Hamas founder would require approval by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the officials said.

An Israeli strike against Yassin, who is revered also by Palestinians who do not support Hamas, would likely provoke revenge bombings.

Yassin already dodged one Israeli attempt to kill him in September. A warplane dropped a 550-pound bomb on a building where he and other Hamas leaders were meeting, but Yassin escaped with just a small wound to his hand.