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Israeli Retaliation Intensifies Palestinian Resolve

November 22, 2000|SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GAZA CITY — Umm Mohammed al Hassani shed no tears over the destruction of her home of 12 years. Nor did she express worry about how to feed her nine children with the kitchen reduced to rubble.

Instead, anger flashed in the dark eyes of Hassani, who gave her first name as "mother of" her firstborn son, an Arab tradition.

"I curse the enemy. We want the war with Israel to continue," the refugee camp resident hissed Tuesday, holding up a bloody scarf belonging to her mother-in-law, who was struck in the head by a crumbling roof during Monday night's rocket attack on this seaside city.

The fiercest Israeli assault on Palestinians during the current intifada, in response to an attack on a school bus carrying Jewish settlers, only inflamed the anger of Hassani and other Gazans, who woke up with renewed vigor for their "holy war" fought with stones and violent ambushes of soldiers and settlers. The fact that Israel was retaliating for the Palestinian bus bombing that left two teachers dead does not excuse the military assault, they said.

"They should pull out of the West Bank and Gaza," said Aiysha Jabar, 20, a sophomore studying computer programming at Al Azhar University here. "And of course, [get out of] Jerusalem," she added, referring to the most contentious point between the two sides: their rival claims to the holy city as a capital.

And so the cycle of bloodshed escalated this week, with each side resolving to meet the other's violence with increasing violence of its own. Clashes between Palestinian stone-throwers and Israeli soldiers sent dozens of wounded people to area hospitals Tuesday, including Gaza resident Mahmood Abdul Salaam.

The 14-year-old said he had decided to confront Israeli soldiers that morning after standing on his rooftop and watching dozens of rockets launched from helicopters and warships blow up Palestinian military and political buildings the night before.

"Yes, I will continue throwing rocks at the soldiers, all the way to Jerusalem!" he said, waving his bandaged left arm as he recuperated from a bullet wound. At home, he likes to crumple to the floor and pretend he's a martyr, his mother added proudly.

Despite such pledges of hostility, the streets of Gaza City were unusually quiet Tuesday, with only a handful of cars competing with horse-drawn carts for lanes.

With Israeli roadblocks keeping Palestinians from traveling within the Gaza Strip, the lack of traffic illustrated the effect on their economy as the Jewish state tries to force an end to the nearly 8-week-old conflict.

Last week, Prime Minister Ehud Barak stopped transfer payments of millions of dollars in tax revenues that Israel collects monthly for the Palestinians. The government is also preventing fuel shipments from reaching the Gaza Strip, thus making driving, cooking and heating a difficult proposition, residents here complain.

The destruction of buildings such as the year-old office of Col. Mohammed Dahlan, the top security official in Gaza, further drains the Palestinian purse, one of Dahlan's aides said, requesting anonymity. The aide and Greek Orthodox priest Elias Awid were among hundreds who toured the once-palatial structure Tuesday, cautiously stepping over countless glass fragments to examine the damage.

"This is criminal," Awid charged as workers gathered fragments of the 18 rockets that they said were fired at the building. "Instead of using their hands for peace, they [the Israelis] use their hands for war."

Many Gaza residents say they are willing to endure more rocket strikes if it means that their leaders won't head back to the negotiating table. They are frustrated with a seven-year peace process that they say has done nothing to improve their lot.

Only the mother of Samir al Saweir, 15, appeared tired of the intifada Tuesday. While her brother extolled the virtues of his nephew losing his lower right leg to an Israeli tank shell, she focused on the questions no one else raised.

"How will he walk?" she asked. "What about his future?"

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