AMMAN, Jordan - Outrage over the killing of Hamas' founder, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, combined yesterday with a year of pent-up fury at the U.S.-led war in Iraq and exploded in protests throughout the Middle East.
Thousands turned out for demonstrations in Arab capitals as their governments denounced the helicopter attack that killed Yassin as he was returning home from morning prayers. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak canceled plans to participate in a celebration today marking the 25th anniversary of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, the first between Israel and an Arab country. Even members of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council denounced Israel's action.
Lawyers shout anti-Israeli slogans and hold posters of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, during a demonstration against the Israeli killing of the Hamas founder, inside the Egypt's lawyers union in Cairo Tuesday, March 23, 2004. Yassin was killed in a Israeli helicopter missile strike outside a Gaza City mosque Monday. (Salah Sokkar)
The protest showed the depth of hostility many in the Arab world feel toward the United States. Despite denials in Washington, many expressed certainty that the United States supported Yassin's killing.
"[Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon would never do this without getting a green light somehow from the U.S. administration," said Labib Kamhawi, a Jordanian political analyst.
"And from where did the Israelis get the helicopters and the rockets they used to kill the sheikh?" Ibrahim Tahir, 29, asked as he sipped tea in an Amman teahouse. "From America."
In Jordan, where more than half the population is of Palestinian origin, marchers thrust photographs of Yassin in the air and called for violence to supplant diplomacy. They pledged revenge, invoking Iraq as well as a Jenin refugee camp leveled by an Israeli incursion in 2002.
"All of us are Ahmed Yassin, from Amman to Jenin, from Baghdad to Jenin," thousands chanted in the Jordanian capital. "Raise your voices and be rid of the peaceful solutions."
Fareed Mohamed, 35, who left the Gaza Strip for Jordan three decades ago, said: "Sheikh Yassin was a symbol for our revolution. He was an Arab patriot, and we loved him for that."
Protesters in Egypt called for bloodshed in Israel. Sudanese in Khartoum flocked to an office of Hamas to offer condolences.
Students in Yemen skipped class to shout anti-American slogans. Lebanese protesters burned tires and Israeli flags. Dozens of young men in the Palestinian territories lined up to volunteer as suicide bombers, according to news reports.
"All these demonstrations are one, and the blood of Sheikh Yassin will be fuel to the resistance," said Essam el Arian, a spokesman in Cairo, Egypt, for the Muslim Brotherhood, the Middle East's oldest, most influential Islamic movement. "Our most important reaction now will be to centralize our support of Palestinian resistance groups and to defy the actions of America, Europe and Israel to create chaos in this region."
Most Arab leaders issued statements condemning Israel as "cowardly" for using a gunship to blast Yassin in his wheelchair as he left a Gaza mosque.
The Kuwaiti prime minister predicted more regional violence, and Jordan's prime minister said Yassin's death shelved peace prospects.
"By this crime against a disabled man, the Israeli government has thrown open the door for an unending war in the region," said Abu Emad al Rufay, Lebanon-based spokesman for Islamic Jihad. "Israel dared to do this because it has the green light from the U.S. government on one hand and the shameful silence of Arab leaders on the other."
Members of the Iraqi Governing Council sent a letter of condolence to Palestinian leaders.
"What an end for this great man who spent his life as a militant for the Palestinian cause," said Hatem al Hassani, assistant to council member Mohsin Abdul Hameed. "He wanted to give the Palestinians their rights, their dignity, their freedom. Instead, he went to God as a martyr."
© Copyright 2004 Knight-Ridder