Hamas leader defies Palestinian 'house arrest'

 

Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, founder of Hamas, defied "house arrest" imposed on him by the Palestinian Authority today to join around 1,500 people in an anti-American rally in Gaza.

Palestinian security officials declined immediate comment on the Sheikh’s re-emergence in public, four days after his supporters clashed with Palestinian police in anger over an order said to have put the wheelchair-bound cleric under house arrest.

Sheikh Ahmed Yassin

Mr Yassin was in a car driven among Palestinians backing various nationalist and Islamic groups in a march protesting at the 35th anniversary of East Jerusalem's annexation by Israel after a Middle East war, a step not recognised internationally.

"We are here to say that we will sacrifice our souls and blood for Jerusalem," said the Sheik, with bodyguards clutching AK-47 assault rifles flanking the car. "Whoever defends his land is not a terrorist. America supports terrorism."

The military wing of Hamas has claimed responsibility for a series of suicide bombings in a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation in Gaza and the West Bank.

The Israeli army has responded by reoccupying West Bank towns that were given limited self-rule under interim peace deals in the 1990s and from which most suicide bombers have infiltrated into Israel and killed scores of civilians.

The army killed four Hamas militants in Gaza with a helicopter missile on Monday and Israeli Prime Minister Mr Ariel Sharon threatened "massive activities" against the Islamic group.