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The Mideast

Hamas Founder Remembered in New Museum

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- The Hamas militant group has turned the modest home of its founder into a museum -- seven years after the wheelchair-bound Palestinian cleric was killed in an Israeli airstrike as he was wheeled out of a mosque.

The Sheik Ahmed Yassin museum, located in an alleyway in the rundown Sabra neighborhood of Gaza City, has become a popular destination since it opened last month. Dozens of schoolchildren and well-wishers visit each day.

Yassin, who was paralyzed in a childhood accident, was hit by a missile fired from an Israeli helicopter on March 22, 2004. The assassination came at a time of heavy Israeli-Palestinian fighting, and Israel described Yassin as a "mastermind of Palestinian terror."

"The sheik was the leader of the resistance movement in Palestine," said his son, Abdel Hamid Yassin, who was wounded with his father in the airstrike. "This house was the house of the nation."

Yassin, 37, said little has been changed in the house since his father's death.

"We only posted new framed photos and organized his conference room to allow people to go in and out freely," he said.

The sheik's widow, two of his sons, including Abdel Hamid, and more than 25 relatives still live in the five-room home.

The living room, which served as Yassin's office, is decorated with pictures of the bearded cleric alongside fellow Hamas leaders and Arab dignitaries, including the late King Hussein of Jordan and the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. In the center of the room is the wheelchair Yassin used to get around the house, decorated with a portrait of the cleric wrapped in his trademark brown blanket.

Yassin's bedroom is decorated with more portraits on the bed. Inside a small glass box are the fragments of the wheelchair he was sitting on when he was killed. Nearby are his Quran, and a special metal stand used to attach the book to his wheelchair, a collection of books, videotaped speeches and his old computer.

"This museum will help us revive the memory of the great imam, the martyr Ahmed Yassin, among the Arab and Islamic nation," says an inscription in the guest book by Hamas' prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, who was the sheik's longtime assistant.

The house has played an important role in the history of Hamas, an Islamic movement formed in the 1980s that today has a potent army and controls the Gaza Strip. The house hosted the first meeting of Hamas' leadership. Families would visit to seek Yassin's advice, Arafat would visit on Muslim holidays and Hamas still uses the site to make major announcements.

Yassin was killed at a time when Hamas suicide bombings and other attacks against Israeli civilians were common.

The frail, diminutive preacher was beloved by Palestinians, even his rivals, and seen as soft-spoken and charismatic. Some 200,000 people flooded the streets of Gaza for his funeral, and the killing prompted anti-Israel demonstrations across the Middle East.

Ramiz Radwan, 13, who visited the museum on Monday, said he had faint memories of Yassin passing out sweets to encourage children to memorize the Quran.

"I still remember we used to gather around him at the mosque when I was young. He would say, 'God bless you. You are the hope of the nation,"' he said.

Hamas has controlled Gaza since 2007 when it seized the coastal territory in bloody street battles.