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Europe

European Press Review: Shaking the Hornet's Nest

Editorials in Tuesday’s European papers condemned the assassination of Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader and founder of Palestinian militant group Hamas, by the Israeli military.

The paraplegic cleric was attacked by Israeli helicopter gunships early Monday upon leaving a mosque in Gaza’s Sabra district. Yassin’s assassination has been condemned by world leaders warning of Palestinian reprisals while Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon congratulated the Israeli security forces.

The French daily, Le Figaro accused the Israeli Prime Minister Arial Sharon of having acted solely in accordance with military logic in ordering the extra-judicial killing of Yassin. The paper also criticized the United States for its guarded response to the death of the cleric. The French paper noted that Europeans still believe in the Middle East peace process, despite the fact that it has stalled on many occasions. Ariel Sharon has a completely free hand to do what he wants - the paper write- and that is a cause for grave concern to the international community.

The Luxemburger Wort wrote that Yassin’s killing is further proof of how the peace plan envisaged by the US, EU and Russia has been rubbished by Sharon who has tried at every opportunity to sabotage it, thereby making it impossible for the creation of a Palestinian state. The paper said that Yassin’s death had opened up a Pandora’s box from which all conceivable evils will escape.

Italy’s Il Messagero admitted fears that the conflict could spread to other countries identified as Israel’s allies, in particular the United States. The paper wrote that the Intifada was limited to within Israel and that Yassin had many times stipulated that Hamas’s goal was to free Palestinians and not to embark on a world wide campaign of terror. However, Il Messagero expressed concerns that Palestinian militants could now join up with Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda terrorist network and take the fight overseas.

Amidst world wide condemnation of the extra-judicial killing of Yassin, the Dutch conservative paper De Telegraaf delivered a reminder that Yassin was a man with a lot of blood on his hands. The paper pointed out that as the spiritual leader of Hamas, Yassin was largely responsible for the many Palestinian suicide bombers who too the lives of many innocent civilians.

Concurring with De Telegraaf, Germany’s Stuttgarter Zeitung remarked that people shouldn’t feel any misplaced sympathy with Yassin. He sent the suicide bombers and he had the blood of hundreds of innocent Israeli children, men and women on his hands, the paper said. But it agreed with a comment by the Polish foreign minister that creating the image of a wheelchair-bound person killed in a rocket attack was probably not the best way of improving Israel’s security.

Austria’s Salzburger Nachrichten acknowledged that the Israeli government could argue its policy of no compromise in the fight against terror in its own land and fight against the Hamas group which is out to destroy Israel. But the paper noted that Hamas had in the past held cease-fires which the Israeli military used to its advantage.

The British conservative paper, The Times remarked that in a perfect world Yassin would have been arrested and placed before the courts. In practice, however Israel had only the choice between the tolerance of one sworn enemy or his removal. The Times pointed out that Sharon must now prove that he has a political strategy for the Middle East if he wants to keep the support of the international community.