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Demonstrators Vow to Avenge Hamas Official

Mideast: Palestinians throng the funeral of Mahmoud Abu Hanoud and two aides. Attack on Jewish settlements in Gaza kills Israeli soldier.


NABLUS, West Bank — Tens of thousands of Palestinians marched through streets of the West Bank and Gaza City on Saturday, vowing to kill Israelis to avenge the death of the military leader of the Islamic movement Hamas, who died in an Israeli helicopter gunship attack.

Hamas threatened to exact a price from the Jewish state even before angry crowds turned out for the burials of Mahmoud Abu Hanoud and two assistants who died Friday night. The trio were killed by missiles fired at them as they drove north of Nablus.

After night fell Saturday, Palestinians fired mortar shells and rockets at Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip, killing an Israeli soldier near the settlement of Kfar Darom and injuring two other soldiers. Although Palestinians have fired hundreds of mortar shells at settlements and at communities inside Israel's pre-1967 borders since fighting began 14 months ago, this was the first time anyone was killed by one.

Israeli helicopters fired at least 20 missiles at Palestinian targets in Gaza early today, destroying a security position and wounding three people, Palestinian security officials said. Israel Radio reported that at least 20 Palestinians were injured.

The latest developments inflamed passions here on the eve of the arrival of U.S. envoys trying to halt the violence. More than 900 people, most of them Palestinians, have died since fighting erupted in late September 2000.

Former Marine Corps Gen. Anthony C. Zinni and Assistant Secretary of State William Burns will find each side blaming the other for the failure to achieve a cease-fire.

In an interview on Israeli radio Saturday, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, the leading dove in the Israeli Cabinet, described Abu Hanoud as a "professional terrorist," and his killing as an act of self-defense.

Speaking to reporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed-Rabbo said the killing was meant to torpedo the latest U.S. diplomatic effort.

Massive crowds of militants, many waving the green banners of Hamas or wearing green Hamas bandannas and firing guns into the air, accompanied Abu Hanoud's body from the morgue in Jenin to Nablus and later to his village for burial. Tens of thousands more marched through the streets of Gaza City, also chanting for revenge.

"He was very popular among the people because his policy was clear," said Ahmed Asedeh, 22, a Hamas supporter who attended the funeral in Nablus. "He wanted to establish a Muslim state in all of Palestine. He wanted to bring the refugees back to their homes. He is dead, but there are others who will follow him."

Topping the Jewish state's most-wanted list for his alleged role as the mastermind of suicide bombings and other attacks inside Israel, Abu Hanoud had become a folk hero to many Palestinians.

He escaped Israeli death squads at least twice, was wounded in one of those incidents and recovered, and lived on the run for months before the Israelis found him.

Palestinians say Israel has killed more than 70 people in targeted raids, which have been denounced by the international community.

"This killing means that Israel continues its strategy of killing all the Palestinian activists, and the Palestinian Authority does nothing to protect the Palestinians, to provide security for them," said Hussam Khader, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council from Balata refugee camp on the outskirts of Nablus.

"The Palestinian people should change their strategy, shift to putting their internal house in order," he said as he stood forlornly in downtown Nablus with mourners swirling around him. "There is no intifada here. There is no resistance. There is only closure and siege and killing of activists."

The calls for revenge echoing through Saturday's rallies underscored the dilemma Israel faces in pursuing a policy of killing top enemy commanders. Each time, it gambles that the hits will weaken the military capabilities of the Islamic organizations more than they will fuel the cycle of violence.

Each killing of a leader of Hamas or the equally radical Palestinian Islamic Jihad inspires a wave of volunteers eager to fight Israel and to kill Jews. The killings feed Palestinian anger and further radicalize the Palestinian public, which is increasingly convinced that Israel favors military might over dialogue.

If past experience is a guide, retaliation by Hanoud's Hamas movement will be harsh and will almost certainly target Israeli civilians.

A Hamas political leader, Abdulaziz Rantisi, said Saturday that the organization had been relatively quiet in recent weeks, but that revenge is now inevitable. "The alternative is to submit to Israeli aggression and the crimes of [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon," he said.

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