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No Israeli targets off-limits, Hamas spiritual chief warns

By FLORE DE PRENEUF

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 11, 2001


photo
[AP photo]
Sheik Ahmed Yassin, 65, spent 10 years in Israeli prisons before his release in 1997.
St. Petersburg Times correspondent Flore de Preneuf interviewed Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of the militant Palestinian group Hamas, in his Gaza Strip home last week. The question-and-answer session occurred two days after Israel assassinated six Hamas members, including two of its top leaders, and accidentally killed two children, 8 and 10 years old, by firing missiles at a seven-story building in the West Bank town of Nablus.

* * *

Question: After the June 1 attack at the Dolphinarium disco in Tel Aviv in which 21 people were killed, Yasser Arafat declared a cease-fire and asked you to stop your activities. After the killings in Nablus, will you change your policy?

Answer: Hamas was established to resist and kick out the occupier. Hamas never considered freezing its activities. We don't get red or green lights from anybody. The military wing decides what to do.

* * *

Q: If Israel continues its assassination policy, is there anything you can do to protect people like Abdelaziz Rantissi (a top Hamas leader in Gaza)?

A: Is there any Palestinian who is not in danger? What did the kids who were killed in Nablus do to deserve dying? I want you to understand that we Palestinians are not afraid of death. When one of us is killed, it's like a wedding day for him. We can only protect our men from street attacks, but there's nothing we can do against tank or helicopters. For Rantissi and others, God is the only protection.

* * *

Q: Are you afraid Israel will try to kill you?

A: Please, they are welcome.

* * *

Q: Some Muslim clerics believe suicide bombers are headed for hell because the Koran forbids suicide. What do you think?

A: You must distinguish between a person who commits suicide because he hates the world and wants to get rid of his life and someone who kills himself to protect his land and his people. Their intention is different and Prophet Mohammed said you should judge a person's actions according to his intentions. A suicide bomber sacrifices his life for the sake of others. By protecting the dignity of his people, he becomes a martyr.

* * *

Q: Do you think Israel's assassination policy has weakened your operational capacities by killing bombmaking experts?

A: When one of us is killed, 10 others are born after him. If not hundreds. Killing us is actually making our numbers grow. Even if they kill experts, others will be born. They killed the Engineer (a top bombmaker, in 1996) but our struggle didn't stop after he died.

* * *

Q: What is the consequence of the deaths of Sheik Jamal Mansur and Sheik Jamal Selim (the two top Hamas leaders killed in Nablus) for your organization?

A: Their deaths push us toward more resistance and increase our determination. The way the two sheiks were killed was cowardly. They were sitting in a media office; they were not in a military base or engaged in a military operation. Military people know they risk dying in battle, but civilians should be protected by the Geneva Convention.

* * *

Q: How about Israeli civilians, shouldn't they be kept out of the conflict as well?

A: The Geneva convention protects civilians in occupied territories not civilians who are in fact occupiers.

* * *

Q: Wasn't it cowardly to attack young people at a Tel Aviv disco?

A: They're the ones who are criminals. They took my house and my country. The soldier who attacks us, the pilot who shells us, where do they live? All of Israel, Tel Aviv included, is occupied Palestine. So we're not actually targeting civilians -- that would go against Islam. The crime of occupation is not more legitimate in Tel Aviv (than it is in the West Bank, seized by Israel in 1967) because it is older. If Israel stole my house in Ashkelon in 1948, does it mean it's okay to have made me homeless? Up to this day Jews are running after Nazis and suing countries although their losses occurred a long time ago.

* * *

Q: The relationship between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority has improved a lot with the intifada. What kind of contacts do you have with Arafat?

A: I had an hourlong face-to-face meeting with Arafat a month ago.

* * *

Q: Are there any political differences these days between you two?

A: Definitely. He has his vision and I have mine. He focuses on negotiations while we refuse this policy.

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