His death has not only affected the movement he founded more than 16 years ago, but the entire Palestinian resistance movement.
Yasin exuded an immense psychological presence among his followers and the Palestinian population at large.
The aura of venerability surrounding him made it very difficult for any Palestinian to view him with indifference.
Yasin was probably the second most important man in the occupied Palestinian territories after Palestinian Authority leader Yasir Arafat.
Hence, his absence will be felt for some time to come.
“We don’t worship individuals”
None the less, it is unlikely Yasin’s removal will considerably weaken Hamas, a movement that is defined more by its religious orientation than by its declared political outlook.
Indeed, even Hamas leaders realise that it is not the movement’s firm stance against Israel that induces tens of thousands of Palestinian youths to join the organisation.
The reason lies rather in Hamas’s religiosity and adoption of Islam as a way of life.
“People don’t follow us necessarily because they are particularly infatuated with our political stances. They follow us because we represent Islam,” said a prominent member of the Hamas Shura council to Aljazeera.net.
“It is difficult to be a truly religious Muslim and refrain from supporting Islam which Hamas represents,” added the University professor who asked for anonymity.
Reasons for strength
This view, though very general and somewhat simplistic, is none the less prevalent among many Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
It also explains the outpouring of grief and the immense identification with Hamas throughout Palestine, including Israel proper.
Salih Naami, a Gaza journalist who has written extensively on Hamas, believes that Hamas’s strength lies in its ability to combine the “purity of Islam with national patriotism”.
Hamas's new leader in Gaza,
Abd al-Aziz al-Rantisi
“Hamas represents both Islamic dignity and honour on the one hand, and patriotic nationalism on the other. It also embodies the Islamic ideals of charity, honesty and self-abnegation. And it is almost completely corruption free. This is why people join it and love it.”
On Tuesday, Hamas leaders and elders elected Abd al-Aziz al-Rantisi as “leader of Hamas in Gaza” while Khalid Mishaal will remain the overall political leader of the movement.
The current leadership is not entirely new since al-Rantisi and Mishaal have been effectively running Hamas in one way or another since its foundation in 1987.
It is true that Yasin held the main title, but his aides were actually the real players in determining the movement’s policies.
Al-Rantisi, a trained pediatrician, has always been considered a hawk within Hamas.
However, it is also true that he enjoys more support and admiration within Hamas’s rank and file more than any other leader.
Hence, it is quite possible that al-Rantisi, who survived an Israeli assassination attempt on his life in June, was allowed to remain at the helm of Hamas in order to guarantee continuity and prevent possible divisions and disunity.
Khalid Mishaal stays on as head
of Hamas's political bureau
Some Islamists are privately apprehensive that al-Rantisi may turn to be a “public relations disaster”, the last thing Hamas needs at this pivotal juncture of the Palestinian struggle.
These also hope that al-Rantisi will moderate his views and especially the tone of his fiery statements.
However, Atif Udwan, Professor of Political Science at the Islamic University in Gaza, insists that al-Rantisi is not really “extremist and vitriolic”.
“Al-Rantisi expresses the same views which Yasin held, but he does it in a way that gives a negative impression,” Udwan told Aljazeera.net.
He stressed, however, that al-Rantisi would have to moderate his tone because “it is not enough to be right, you have to be wise as well”.
Al-Rantisi is undoubtedly going to face a very difficult battle ahead, not only in terms of escaping additional expected Israeli assassination attempts on his life at any moment, but also in enlisting the support of the more moderate and pragmatic camps within Hamas.
Hamas "embodies the Islamic ideals of charity, honesty and self-abnegation. And it is almost completely corruption free. This is why people join it and love it”
In any case, being a leader of a resistance movement in Palestine is not and has never been a privilege over which contenders vie.
It is, as Hamas representative in Lebanon Khalid Nazzal said on Aljazeera TV on 23 March, a martyrdom scheme.
Al-Rantisi and his colleagues should be too well aware of this haunting reality, particularly after Israeli political and military officials made it abundantly clear that all Hamas political leaders were on their assassination list.
Nevertheless, Hamas is left with little choice but to continue the resistance so long as Israel continues its daily provocation through the killing and maiming of Palestinian civilians.
As long as the destruction of Palestinian homes and property and the construction of the separation wall in the West Bank continue, the resistance movement is guaranteed to act.