Palestinian PM says Hamas response to killings would be justified
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia warned Israel that its air strike Tuesday that killed 14 Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip will invite a response from the group, adding that any retaliation for the killings will be justified.
â€œThis crime cannot be accepted ... No crime goes unpunished,â€ Qureia said at a meeting of the Palestinian Cabinet. â€œFor sure there will be retaliation, and the retaliation will be justified if it happens.â€
The Israeli helicopter attack on a Hamas training field in Gaza City was one of the deadliest air strikes on militants since fighting broke out four years ago.
The attack came a week after Hamas suicide bombers blew up two buses in the Israeli city of Beersheba, killing 16 people.
Qureia said the attack hindered Egyptâ€™s efforts to help bring peace to the region.
â€œIsrael wants to block everything,â€ said Qureia. â€œYesterday we had a fruitful meeting with the Egyptians and this was Israelâ€™s response.â€
On Monday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit and intelligence chief Omar Suleiman met with Qureia and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to discuss Israelâ€™s planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
Israel refuses to negotiate with the Palestinians and Egypt has stepped in as a mediator, offering help to ensure security in Gaza after the pullout.
Hamas vows revenge
Hamas vowed revenge for Tuesdayâ€™s air strike. Hours later, Palestinian militants fired rounds of mortars and homemade rockets at Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and Israeli towns bordering the coastal area. One Israeli in the border town of Sderot was lightly wounded in a rocket attack, rescue officials said.
The army said it struck a field Hamas used to train militants for firing mortars and rockets. In the past month, Hamas assembled a large bomb and a suicide bomberâ€™s explosives belt at the training camp, the army added.
In Gaza, children stayed home from school Tuesday and shops remained closed in a sign of mourning. Black smoke billowed over the city as students burned tires at spontaneous demonstrations.
Mosque loudspeakers amplified excerpts from the Quran and announced that a joint funeral for the dead militants would begin at 1 p.m.
During the past four years of fighting, Israel has frequently targeted Palestinian militants through air strikes and other military operations.
But the strikes are usually aimed at very specific targets â€” usually senior members of the group or militants on their way to an attack.
In March, an Israeli strike killed Hamas founder and spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin. Three weeks later, in a similar airstrike, the army killed Yassinâ€™s successor, Abdel Aziz Rantisi.
Tuesdayâ€™s attack was the first time the army had targeted such a large gathering of militants.
This policy, which Israel calls â€œtargeted killings,â€ has enraged the Palestinians and drawn international condemnation, especially because of frequent civilian casualties.
In another deadly attack, Israel killed a Hamas military wing leader, Salah Shehadeh, along with 14 others, including nine children, in a July 2002 bombing by an F-16 warplane. The attack was supposed to kill only Shehadeh.
Missiles pound Hamas camp
In Tuesdayâ€™s attack, at least five helicopter missiles pounded the Hamas camp in the Shajaiyeh section of Gaza City, a known Hamas stronghold, just after midnight.
There was pandemonium at Gazaâ€™s Shifa Hospital as casualties arrived in ambulances and cars. Blood-spattered Palestinians carried dead and wounded into the emergency room, while others went straight to the morgue carrying plastic bags with body parts.
Hundreds of angry Palestinians, many of them members of the Hamas military wing with blood on their clothes, gathered outside, shouting â€œRevenge, revenge.â€
â€œThis bloody crime is a new wave of aggression committed against our people and against our sons,â€ said Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri. â€œItâ€™s an ongoing war. One day for us and one day for them.â€
Palestinian officials said all 14 of the dead were Hamas members, although only 11 had been identified by midmorning. The Hamas military wing said Israel had struck a â€œscouts camp where a group of fighters was trainingâ€ and pledged revenge.
The Israeli army statement said training at the site â€œwas led by senior Hamas terrorists who were involved in the carrying out of deadly terror attacks and attempted attacks,â€ it said.
It said the explosives belt worn by a suicide bomber caught by Israeli soldiers at the border last week had come from the camp.
But the attack also appeared to be linked to last weekâ€™s suicide bombing in Beersheba, even though the militants had came from the West Bank. Israel has historically carried out harsh retaliation following deadly attacks on its citizens.
Palestinian girl reportedly wounded by Israeli fire
In a separate incident in Gaza early Tuesday, Israeli troops fired at the Khan Younis refugee camp, critically injuring a 10-year-old girl who was walking home from school, Palestinian hospital officials said. The army did not immediately comment on the incident.
Violence has increased in the Gaza Strip since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced plans to evacuate all Gaza settlements and four West Bank enclaves. Sharon hopes to carry out the pullout next year, uprooting some 8,000 Israeli settlers from Gaza, home to 1.3 million Palestinians.
Palestinian groups are vying for control ahead of the planned pullout and have stepped up attacks to give the impression that they are driving Israel out of the territory. Israel, in the meantime, has increased its strikes so the pullout will not look like a victory for the militants.