Thousands of Christians in the West Bank town of Bethlehem are mourning Israel’s assassination of an Islamic Jihad leader last week.
"People admired [Mohammed] Shehadeh’s ability to stand up to the Israelis," Sami Awad, Christian executive director of the Holy Land Trust, told the Guardian on Sunday, March 16.
Shehadeh, 48, a top leader of the Jihad’s armed wing, was among four killed by Israeli special forces on Wednesday, March 12.
Christians queued outside Bethlehem’s Nativity Church to mourn his killing.
School principals, teachers and students from the Bethlehem School, the Catholic School and the Greek Orthodox School also paraded outside the church chanting and waving placards praising the martyr.
"The reason he was popular was because he presented a symbol of those individuals who were engaging in resistance," said Awad.
In 1981, Israel slapped a 25-yar jail term against Shehadeh but later released him as part of a prisoner swap deal.
In 1992, it expelled him to south Lebanon with a group with Jihad and Hamas leaders, including Ismail Haniyeh and Mahmoud Al-Zahhar.
Former Bethlehem mayor Hanna Nasser, also a Christian, criticized Israel for assassinating Shehadeh.
"The killings mean killing the peace process," he said.
"Blood bleeds blood."
Israel killed up to 130 Palestinians, a quarter of them children, in an onslaught against the besieged Gaza Strip last months.
In addition to his resistance role, Shehadeh was recognized his unrelenting battle against corruption in the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah group.
He won praise from Bethlehem residents, Christians and Muslims alike, for his support for locals.
Christians recall that the Jihad leader used to carry a card with a Qur’anic verse on one side and a picture of the Virgin Mary on the other.
(IslamOnline.net and agencies)