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Yassin: From refugee to spiritual leader

Yassin founded Hamas in 1987 during the first Palestinian intifada.

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CNN's Paula Hancocks reports on the killing of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.
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Ahmed Yassin

(CNN) -- The founder and spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, was killed by an Israeli airstrike as he left a mosque near his home in Gaza City early in the morning.

The paraplegic, partially blind 67-year-old cleric had been confined to a wheelchair most of his life, paralyzed in an accident as a child.

Parts of that wheelchair littered the street at the site of the attack on Monday, with Gaza residents holding up shreds of his bloodied clothing and calling for revenge.

Only Sunday, Israel's cabinet vowed a "war on Hamas," calling the Islamic fundamentalist organization a strategic enemy.

While Hamas is known in Gaza and the West Bank for humanitarian efforts, its military wing, Izzedine al Qassam, has carried out a spate of attacks on Israeli civilian and military targets.

The U.S. State Department and Israel consider Hamas a terrorist group and Israel has long pursued a policy of so-called targeted assassinations of the Hamas leadership in reaction to the group's suicide bombing attacks.

Hamas has sworn it would destroy Israel as a religious duty.

Confirming it had targeted Yassin, Israel said he was part of the Hamas terror framework actively supporting such attacks by his followers and was thus "marked for death."

Yassin was born in what is today the coastal Israeli city of Ashkelon. His Palestinian passport listed his date of birth as January 1, 1929, but Yassin claimed he was born in 1938 in what was then the British mandate of Palestine.

His family became refugees in Gaza during the violence that followed Israel's creation in 1948. He later raised 11 children in a three-room apartment in a Gaza City slum.

Yassin founded Hamas in 1987 during the first Palestinian intifada and angrily warned Israel it would continue to attack despite that government's policy of targeted killings.

An Israeli court sentenced Yassin to life in prison in 1989, but he was freed in 1997 under the terms of a deal brokered by the late King Hussein of Jordan.

The Palestinian Authority placed Yassin under house arrest on a number of occasions since his release, most recently in December 2001, after a series of terror attacks that killed 25 Israelis.

That detention triggered demonstrations and clashes with Palestinian police.

He escaped a previous Israeli attack in September 2003 with a light injury.

His comments late last year now echo with added meaning ..."jihad will continue and the resistance will continue until we have victory, or we will be martyrs."

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