Security forces on heightened terror alert

23/03/2004 The security services, including police, went on a high alert on Monday and are expected to remain so through the Pesach holiday in the wake of Israel’s assassination of Hamas founder and leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was killed in a missile strike early Monday morning in the Gaza Strip. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told security officials Monday evening to bolster security at Israeli embassies abroad and increase protection of public figures within the country, Army Radio reported. He also said Israel must continue to target terror leaders in the territories, according to the report. Mofaz was speaking at a meeting he convened to reassess the Israel Defense Forces’ readiness in light of a possible escalation of violence following the targeted killing of Yassin. Earlier, Mofaz said that Israel was preparing for a new wave of terror attacks.

Hamas, Hezbollah and Yasser Arafat’s Fatah-affiliated Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade have all vowed revenge for the assassination. Shin Bet Chief Avi Dichter was opposed to assassinating Yassin, Channel Two TV reported Monday evening. At last week’s security cabinet meeting, during which the decision was made to target Yassin, Dichter argued that the costs of killing the Hamas leader outweighed the benefits to Israel, the report said. Yassin was killed Monday at daybreak, when Israel Air Force helicopters fired missiles at the wheelchair-bound Hamas leader as he was leaving a mosque near his house in Gaza City. Witnesses said Israeli helicopters fired three missiles at Yassin and his bodyguards around 5 A.M. local time as they left the mosque. Yassin was killed instantly, along with eight people near him, including bodyguards and Hamas members. Seventeen people, including two of Yassin’s sons, were said to have been wounded in the strike. Yossi Kuperwasser, head of the Military Intelligence research department, said Monday that the absence of leadership could harm Hamas activities. He said there were no other leaders in the organization who possess Yassin’s leadership qualities. Kuperwasser also said it was still unclear who would inherit Yassin’s position, but said he thought it could be Abdel Aziz Rantissi or perhaps more than one person. In Palestinian eyes, said Kuperwasser, Israel crossed a red line with the assassination of Yassin. He said the Palestinians are now bothered by the possibility Israel might cross the line again. The IDF went on heightened alert Monday at roadblocks and in the territories after the assassination. All border crossings into Israel were closed to Palestinians, and a closure was clamped on the territories. The police also went on alert inside Israel and beefed up their presence in major cities, fearing reprisals. Police in the Judea and Samaria district canceled all planned vacations and increased the number of officers near schools, bus stops and roadblocks. Within hours of Yassin’s death, tens of thousands of mourners jammed the streets of Gaza City for the funeral procession of Yassin and the seven others killed in the air strike. Twenty-one Palestinian police officers formed an honor guard as the coffin holding Yassin’s mangled body was carried out of Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. The IDF confirmed that Yassin had been killed in the IAF strike, saying he was directly responsible for dozens of terrorist attacks. „In an operation by security forces [Monday] morning in the northern Gaza Strip, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, leader of the Hamas terrorist group and personally responsible for dozens of terrorist attacks and the deaths of Israelis, foreigners and security personnel, was killed in an air strike on his car,” the army said in a statement. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon oversaw the entire operation, receiving constant updates from military officials at his Negev ranch. He said after the strike that the Jewish people had a „natural right” to pursue those who would destroy it, calling Yassin an „arch-terrorist” who plotted attacks that killed hundreds of Israelis. Assassination follows Ashdod attack The security cabinet voted to assassinate Yassin following the March 14 double suicide bombing at the Ashdod port in which 10 people were killed. Interior Minister Avraham Poraz told Israel Radio on Monday that he and Justice Minister Yosef Lapid, both of the Shinui Party, had voted against the assassination. Mofaz told the cabinet Sunday that the defense establishment was drawing up a plan to severely weaken Hamas ahead of Israel’s implementation of its disengagement plan. However, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who is in Washington for previously planned talks with top U.S. officials, told CNN on Monday that the decision to assassinate Yassin had actually been made months ago, adding that it had nothing to do with Sharon’s disengagement plan. Yussef Haddad, 35, a taxi driver, said he saw the missiles hit and kill Yassin and the bodyguards. „Their bodies were shattered,” he said. Ambulances and fire trucks raced to the scene, sirens wailing, and rescue workers were gathering up parts of the shattered bodies. Tens of thousands of Palestinians, many calling for revenge, poured into the streets of Gaza and the West Bank as news spread of Yassin’s death. In Gaza City, hundreds of gunmen were among the protesters, and children burned tires in protest, sending plumes of black smoke into the air. Cars drove through the streets blaring calls for revenge over loudspeakers. Some aired recordings of Yassin, saying, „We chose this road, and will end with martyrdom or victory.” Yassin was by far the most senior Palestinian militant killed in more than three years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting. Announcing Yassin’s death, the Hamas leadership said, „Sharon has opened the gates of hell and nothing will stop us from cutting off his head.” Yassin was sentenced by Israel in 1989 to a life term for founding Hamas and inciting Palestinians to attack Israelis. But Israel released him in 1997 as a goodwill gesture to Jordan’s King Hussein after a failed Israeli attempt to assassinate Hamas leader Khaled Mashal in Amman. Yassin was lightly wounded in a failed Israeli attempt to assassinate him last September. BPI.