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S P E C I A L Struggle for Peace

Freed Hamas founder returns to Gaza

October 6, 1997
Web posted at: 10:47 a.m. EDT (1447 GMT)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (CNN) -- Palestinians on Monday celebrated the triumphant return of Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin, hanging banners welcoming "the sheik of the uprising."

Yassin was freed by Israel last Wednesday from a life jail sentence imposed in 1989 for ordering attacks on Israelis.

The release of the 61-year-old quadraplegic reportedly was part of a deal under which Jordan would release two agents from Mossad, the Israeli secret service, captured in a failed assassination attempt on another Hamas leader in Amman.

Twenty-two Palestinian prisoners -- including Hamas activists accused of attacks on Israelis -- also were expected to be freed by Israel as part of the swap, Israeli media reported.

Gaza Strip prepares for the homecoming
Correspondent Jerrold Kessel reports
icon 349 K/31 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

A PLO official said Yassin flew directly from Jordan by helicopter and was to address Palestinians at Gaza City's Yarmouk sports stadium -- the scene three years ago of President Yasser Arafat's triumphant return to limited Palestinian autonomy.

In preparation for Yassin's return, Palestinian youths whitewashed the wall of his family's home in the dusty Sabra district of Gaza City.

They put up posters of the Hamas leader and strung up a banner reading: "In the name of the Hamas we welcome the sheik of the intifada" -- the 1987-93 uprising against Israeli occupation.

"Congratulations from the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades to the founder of Hamas," read one slogan from the movement's armed wing, responsible for suicide attacks on Israelis.

Yassin's house

Yassin's stand on Israel unclear

In prison, Yassin moderated his positions and as a free man could influence his followers to end attacks against Israeli civilians, as he has counseled from jail.

However, the Lebanese newspaper an-Nahar on Monday quoted him as saying he was ready to resume his anti-Israeli activities upon return to Gaza, even if it meant going back to prison.

"I will do what my people ask. If they (the Israelis) arrest me ... I am ready to go back to prison again," Yassin said.

But the newspaper also reported, without direct quotations, that Yassin said he would accept an interim truce during which steps would be taken to stop violence and Hamas would join Arafat's Palestinian Authority in contacts with Israel and the United States.

Sources told CNN that on September 23, two days before the attack on Hamas political leader Khalid Mashaal in Amman, Hamas approached the Israeli government with an offer to halt terror attacks in Israel for 10 years in exchange for a role in negotiations.

Israeli and Hamas officials have denied that such an offer was made.

Also on Monday, U.S. Mideast peace negotiator Dennis Ross was to arrive in the region to preside over a resumption of Palestinian-Israeli talks, which were suspended in March after Israel started building homes for Jews in a disputed area of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem Bureau Chief Walter Rodgers and Correspondent Jerrold Kessel contributed to this report.

Struggle For Peace

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