Palestinians lash out at leaderBy Associated Press,
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 3, 2003
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Firing rifles into the air and hoisting bodies over their heads, tens of thousands of Palestinians filled the streets Friday to mourn 12 people killed in an Israeli raid, and warned their new prime minister against any attempts to disarm militants.
"No to Abu Mazen!" they chanted angrily, lashing out against Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who was sworn in two days earlier with a promise to crack down on militants and work for the success of a new, internationally backed Mideast peace plan.
Thursday's raid came a day after a suicide attacker killed three people in Tel Aviv. Palestinian officials and Israeli opposition leaders have accused Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of using the raid to undercut Abbas before he has a chance to confront violent Palestinian groups - a key element of the plan.
Israeli media quoted a senior army officer Friday as saying the suicide bombing was probably planned outside Israel. The report said the bomb was apparently put together abroad as well.
The revelation raised questions about a possible lapse in border security and intensified fears that foreign terrorists are infiltrating Israel. Officials have confirmed the bomber and his would-be accomplice were British citizens.
The swearing-in Wednesday of Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen, led to the unveiling of an internationally backed "road map" to peace and sparked hopes for an end to 31 months of violence.
Instead, there was more bloodshed. The Tel Aviv bombing, claimed jointly by the Islamic militant Hamas group and the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, was followed Thursday by an Israeli raid into a Gaza City neighborhood to arrest a top Hamas bombmaker. The incursion set off a fierce gunbattle that killed 13 Palestinians, including boys ages 2, 13 and 15. The 2-year-old was buried Thursday.
The deaths have galvanized many in Gaza against the latest peace plan.
"Where is Abu Mazen, to come and see the real choice of the people?" asked Raouf Tulan, a 27-year-old construction worker and Hamas supporter whose cousin was killed. "It's the choice of everyone in Palestine to go the distance until victory."
Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the quadriplegic leader of Hamas, said the group would order more suicide bombings, which already have killed hundreds of Israelis. "Resistance, all types of resistance, will continue in the West Bank, in Gaza and in the occupied land of 1948," he said, referring to Israel.
Friday's march was the biggest show of force by militant groups in nearly a year. Hundreds of gunmen fired into the air as others bore stretchers carrying bodies of the dead on the way to graves. The crowd stretched for nearly two miles in central Gaza City.
Along the fence between Gaza and Israel, troops Friday discovered and detonated a 200-pound bomb, the army said. The bomb was found near the Israeli village of Nahal Oz.
In Rafah in the Gaza Strip, a freelance British journalist was shot dead Friday night while filming a documentary in the southern Palestinian city along the Egyptian border, Israeli media reported.
The journalist, whose name wasn't immediately released, was shot in the neck and taken from the scene in an Israeli tank.
Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat said Israel was to blame for sparking Palestinian opposition to Abbas and the fledgling peace plan.
"Hours after the Israeli government was handed the road map, tanks were moving into Gaza," Erekat said. "We expected the response to come from the Israeli government in words, but unfortunately it came with bullets and tanks."
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