The founder and leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, was the most important Palestinian leader after Yasser Arafat. For Israelis he was the symbol of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism and responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Israelis.
Many blame Israel for Yassin's emergence as a political leader. In the early 1980s, he was identified as a religious leader seemingly uninterested in politics, and regarded by the military occupation in Gaza as an alternative to the Palestine Liberation Organization. He was so preferred by the military that the army sent him to Tel Hashomer for treatment for his paralysis, from which he had suffered since childhood, apparently the result of an accident while playing some sport in his youth.
Within a few years, he would emerge as the leader of the Palestinian jihad against Israel.
Key dates in Yassin's biography:
l 1936 - born in a village not far from contemporary Ashkelon.
l 1948 - the Yassin family becomes refugees. Yassin grows up in Gaza refugee camps. At age 12 he is paralyzed in sporting accident. He later raises 11 children in three-room apartment in Gaza City slum.
l 1965 - the Egyptian intelligence service arrests Yassin for Muslim Brotherhood activities. He is held for a month.
l 1979 - Islamic Association, headed by Yassin, is recognized by the IDF as a counterweight to Fatah. Yassin gets medical treatment in Israel.
l 1984 - Yassin is sentenced to 13 years in prison for weapons possession, establishment of an armed organization and calling for Israel's destruction.
l 1985 - Yassin is released from prison in the Ahmed Jibril prisoner exchange.
l 1987 - Islamic Association changes its name to Hamas and takes part in the first intifada, which begins in Gaza.
l 1989 - Yassin is arrested in mass roundup of nearly 200 Hamas members and sentenced to life in prison for ordering attacks on Israeli soldiers and on Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel. He suffers from various illnesses in jail, including chronic bronchitis and eye and ear infections.
l 1997 - Israel frees Yassin in exchange for two agents from the Mossad held by Jordan after botched attempt on life of Hamas political leader Khaled Mashal.
l 1998 - Yassin tours Arab and Muslim countries, raising funds.
l 2000 - With breakdown of peace talks and outbreak of new Israeli-Palestinian fighting, Hamas and other militant groups start a campaign of suicide bombings, killing more than 450 people during fighting that has lasted more than three years.
l 2003 - In response to suicide bombings, Israel intensifies targeted killings of militants and declares top Hamas leaders "marked for death."
l Sept. 6, 2003 - The Israel Air Force drops a 250-kilogram on a Gaza building where Hamas leaders had gathered; Yassin escapes with a small wound on his hand.
l Jan. 30, 2004 - Yassin says Hamas making every effort to kidnap Israeli soldiers to use as bargaining chips for release of Palestinians in Israeli jails.
l March 22, 2004 - A helicopter launches three missiles that instantly kill Yassin as he leaves a mosque near his Gaza home after morning prayers.
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