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CRISIS IN THE MIDEAST

Palestinians Speak of Need to Spill Blood for the Dead

Revenge: Stung by losses, especially of children, Gazans look for ways to exact a greater toll on Israelis, whose casualties have been far fewer.

October 13, 2000|MARY CURTIUS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GAZA CITY — Even before an enraged Palestinian mob lynched Israeli soldiers in the West Bank town of Ramallah on Thursday, the talk here was of revenge.

Gathered in angry knots around their wounded sons at Shifa Hospital, fingering weapons nervously at an empty resort that just three weeks ago hosted Israeli tourists, lingering at the junction where 22 Palestinians have died in clashes in the past two weeks, Gazans said that this fight is not over.

They said they are unhappy that mass demonstrations subsided Tuesday after Israeli authorities issued an ultimatum to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

"Certainly, I don't agree with Abu Ammar," said 19-year-old Habib Abu Zaid, using Arafat's nom de guerre. "And I don't accept his negotiating with the Israelis. I am angry that the demonstrations have stopped."

His anger was echoed by the uncle of an 11-year-old boy, Sami abu Jezzar, as the child lay dying in Shifa Hospital on Wednesday, the day after he was shot in the head by Israeli troops in the southern Gaza Strip.

"We believe in God," said the uncle, who would give only his first name, Mohammed. "God said that our confrontation with the Jews is religious. We believe that it has come back to this real fact."

North of Gaza City at the Al Wahah resort, a monument that an Israeli peace group donated to the hotel has become a gathering spot for Palestinian security forces.

"May Peace Prevail on Earth" is written in English, Arabic, Hebrew and Japanese on the simple white post. The gunmen cluster on the lawn around it, peering warily up the road, waiting to see whether fighting will erupt.

"The Israeli soldiers at the checkpoint up the road fire this way sometimes, and we fire back," explained one member of the group, who refused to give his name.

Across Gaza, Palestinians talk bitterly of their dead and wounded, and of finding a way to extract a greater toll in blood from the Israelis, whose casualties have been far fewer. News agencies that have kept track say about 2,000 Palestinians have been wounded and more than 95 killed. Palestinians insist that the numbers are higher, with as many as 3,000 wounded and more than 100 dead.

Among the dead and injured have been several children, including Sami abu Jezzar. The Israelis accuse the Palestinian Authority of cynically sending children to the front lines of the riots, deliberately putting them in harm's way. The Palestinians accuse Israeli soldiers of coldbloodedly targeting their children.

In Sami's case, the Israeli army said the boy was hit when soldiers opened fire on youths throwing stones and gasoline bombs at its Rafah outpost. Journalists who witnessed the shooting said he was with a group of boys who were throwing stones when he was hit.

Sami's family insists that he was simply walking home from school when he was shot. "Even if he threw stones, he doesn't deserve a bullet in the head," the boy's distraught uncle said as he stood outside the hospital.

He spoke after thousands of students from Gazan universities staged a raucous demonstration in downtown Gaza City urging Arafat to continue the fight that erupted after Ariel Sharon, leader of Israel's right-wing Likud Party, paid a controversial visit to the Al Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City late last month. Militants with their faces swathed in kaffiyehs fired automatic weapons in the air at the Gazan protest and vowed to target Israelis inside Israel.

The crowd left behind angry graffiti on whitewashed walls, slogans in black and red that promised, "The Revenge Will Be Harsh," and, referring to a militant Islamic group, "Hamas Promises the People to Continue the Way and Take Revenge for the Martyrs."

In his office at the Gazan branch of the World Trade Center, Jihad Wazir, son of Khalil Wazir, the Palestine Liberation Organization military leader assassinated by Israeli special forces in 1988, said the anger cuts across classes and factions of Palestinian society.

"The anger is not gone," said the bespectacled businessman. "The anger is seething and there is no closure. Starting the peace process again will not resolve the issue."

The Netzarim junction has been ground zero for the clashes in the Gaza Strip. The junction southwest of Gaza City is where the strip's main north-south artery intersects an Israeli-controlled road that provides the only access to a tiny Jewish settlement. The Israeli army outpost at the junction looks like the set of a "Mad Max" movie.

Three armored turrets rise above massive blocks of concrete stained with the black residue of countless Molotov cocktails hurled at the site. Two huge Israeli flags snap defiantly in the sea breeze behind a towering chain-link fence. For hundreds of feet around the junction, there is devastation.

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