Sheikh Release Rocks Mideast

  • Share
  • Read Later
JERUSALEM: Looking closer to death than to the freedom into which he had just been bundled, Sheik Ahmed Yassin was strapped to a stretcher and wheeled across the tarmac before dawn Wednesday, bound for a Jordanian helicopter. The release of the man that Hamas considers its "spiritual leader" was sudden, but not a surprise to those in the know. "The Israelis have debated about releasing Yassin for two years," says TIME Jerusalem Bureau Chief Lisa Beyer. "They've been terrified that he'll die in jail and provoke even more attacks."

The timing, however, has a definite air of mystery. There is an unconfirmed story that Yassin was traded for two Mossad agents in a deal brokered by King Hussein of Jordan. The Jordanians deny the exchange, but the Israelis have gone out of their way not to deny it. Says Beyer: "Netanyahu may be trying to justify the Yassin release by sort of winking at the report, and allowing people to believe there was quid pro quo." And the agents, who are being held in the attempted assassination of another Hamas leader? "That's the strange thing," adds Beyer. "As far as anybody knows, they're still in jail in Jordan." In the Middle East, not even deals look like deals.