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Palestinian Authority frees Hamas leader

JERUSALEM, Dec. 23 (JTA) — The Palestinian Authority has freed Hamas spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin from house arrest. The measure was seen as a goodwill gesture for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began over the weekend. Some observers also noted that it could also be a warning signal to Israel, which suspended implementation of the US-brokered land-for-security accord. The wheelchair-bound Yassin was placed under house arrest shortly after the Wye agreement was signed in October. During his imprisonment, the fiery cleric was prevented from attending Friday prayers, his phone lines were cut off and police were stationed outside his home in the Gaza Strip. The arrest was considered a blow to Hamas, and sent a clear message from the self-rule authority to the Islamic militant group, which opposes the peace accords with Israel. The Hamas group has vowed to launch terrorist attacks against Israel, and has also threatened Palestinian officials and security forces. Yassin was freed from an Israeli prison more than a year ago as part of a deal to secure the release of two Mossad agents who were arrested in Jordan following a botched assassination attempt on a Hamas political leader.