Hamas leader killed

A senior Hamas leader said: “War is open” with Israel.

“They know it’s opened, there will be no revenge, it’s an open war,” said Abdul Aziz al-Rantissi.

Reprisal attacks are expected to follow.

According to an anonymous called to a Middle Eastern television station, militant group the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades is planning a retaliatory strike on Israel “in the coming hours” (AEDT 1830).

Sheikh Yassin was killed while leaving a mosque in his wheelchair, after three rockets fired by an Israeli helicopter hit nearby.

The Israeli army has confirmed the killing.

A number of others were also killed in the attacks, including Yassin’s two bodyguards.

Thousands of angry and tearful Palestinians have taken to the streets, calling for revenge attacks against Israel.

The Hamas leadership, announcing Yassin’s death over mosque loudspeakers, said: “Sharon has opened the gates of hell, and nothing will stop us from cutting off his head.”

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reportedly personally supervised the attack.

A report on Israeli radio said Mr Sharon had given the go-ahead to Yassin’s elimination, and supervised the operation.

Hamas’ military wing, the Ezzedin al-Qassam Brigades, has issued a statement vowing “immediate reprisals, like an earthquake that will hit everywhere to destroy the Zionist presence.”

Yassin, who was in his late sixties, was wheelchair-bound and partially blind.

A witness to the attack described what he saw after the first explosion.

“I looked to see where Sheikh Yassin was,” he said.

“He was lying on the ground and his chair was destroyed. People there darted left and right. Then another two missiles landed.”

His body was taken to Gaza City’s Shifa hospital.

The Palestinian Authority condemned the attack.

“This is a crazy and very dangerous act,” said Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie.

“It opens the door wide to chaos. Yassin is known for his moderation and he was controlling Hamas, and therefore this is a dangerous, cowardly act.”

But Israel’s deputy defense minister Zeev Boim said that Yassin had deserved to meet his fate after overseeing hundreds of attacks by the movement.

“Sheikh Yassin deserved to die for all the terrorist attacks committed by Hamas,” Mr Boim said, speaking on Israeli radio.

He hinted that more attacks on Palestinian militant leaders are possible, saying that “no terrorist leader will be immune”.

Israel’s security cabinet last Tuesday decided to step up military operations against Hamas and its leadership following the twin suicide attack in the port of Ashdod.

Israel has sealed off the West Bank and Gaza Strip, barring Palestinians from entering the Jewish state.

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