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Last Updated: Saturday, 6 September, 2003, 22:41 GMT 23:41 UK
Attack on militant breaks new ground
By Kylie Morris
Former BBC Gaza correspondent

Sheikh Ahmed Yassin is considered the spiritual leader of the militant group Hamas.

He may have survived an air strike on a building he was visiting in Gaza City on Saturday, but for many Palestinians the damage has been done.

Palestinians protest against Sheikh Yassin attack

Despite the deaths of 11 Hamas members in the past two weeks, this attack marks new territory - Sheikh Yassin has lived beyond the reach of Israeli warplanes in the past and always takes care to distance himself, at least publicly, from the activities of the military wing of Hamas.

Still, he is the most influential of what remains of the Hamas leadership.

The extremist group is one reason why Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, has walked away from the job of Palestinian prime minister.

Before tendering his resignation he locked horns with his president, Yasser Arafat, over the failure of the Palestinian leader to give him full support to take on groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

He has been called a collaborator by the militants, who accuse him of being a stooge to the Americans and Israelis.

But in reality, he is a man who has become stuck in the middle, caught between Israeli demands to stop and disarm the militants and Palestinian demands that the Israelis stop their assassinations, release prisoners and return territory.

There will now be pressure on Mr Arafat to find a replacement. The Israelis and Americans need someone they can talk to.

But the experiences of Abu Mazen have shown that without a willingness on both sides to give ground, any Palestinian prime minister will be hard-pressed to resurrect a roadmap to peace that appears to have reached a dead-end.




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