Yassin Strike Rattles Israeli Economy

The assassination of the leader of the militant Palestinian group Hamas (searchhas boomeranged into economic and political damage to Israel because of Hamas threats of retaliation.

Israeli media reported Thursday on a number of economic setbacks stemming from Monday's slaying of Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin (searchin an air strike in Gaza.

A European president and a Spanish basketball team canceled trips to Israel. And tour operators say large numbers of tourists have called off their trips to the Holy Land.

Tourism is Israel's top foreign currency earner, and the industry already has been hard hit by more than three years of Palestinian-Israeli violence. Tourism figures were finally showing an upturn when the Yassin assassination early Monday suddenly changed the security picture.

Israel clamped a closure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip (search), banning all Palestinians from entering Israel. Israeli security forces also were on high alert, setting up roadblocks on Israeli highways and checking vehicles.

But the precautions only added to the nervous atmosphere, and many Israelis preferred to stay indoors, leaving malls and restaurants nearly empty.

Israel said Yassin was responsible for dozens of Hamas attacks, including homicide bombings, that have killed hundreds of Israelis. Since a double homicide bombing March 14 at an Israeli seaport, Israel has declared that it is targeting the entire Hamas leadership.

The assassination was condemned by many world leaders, and Romanian President Ion Iliescu canceled a visit to Israel, set to begin Monday.

Also, an Egyptian delegation called off a visit to mark 25 years since the Israel-Egypt peace treaty was signed.

On Thursday, the Israeli basketball champions, Maccabi Tel Aviv, were to face Spain's Pamesa Valencia in a league game, but the Spanish team refused to fly to Tel Aviv because of security concerns.

European sports officials set a meeting for next week to decide whether to move the European league championship finals out of Tel Aviv. The games are scheduled for late April and early May.

The Israeli daily Maariv reported that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, set to visit in May, would not come, but his office said the trip was still on.

The report followed an advisory from the U.S. State Department, counseling U.S. citizens to postpone their travel plans to Israel.

Roy Cimatu, the Philippines special envoy to the Mideast, was to arrive in Israel next week to evaluate the security situation and see if it is necessary to evacuate -- or prepare plans for such a measure -- the 75,000 Filipino workers in the country.

Still, some Israeli economic officials believe it is too early to give up hopes for better economic times.

"We still have no indications of a wave of tourist cancelations over the long term," said Ami Etgar, a spokesman for the Israel Incoming Tour Operators Association in Tel Aviv. "It depends much more on what will be, than what already has been."