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Anger Fills Hamas Funeral

The group swears to target every Israeli for the assassination of a founding member.

August 23, 2003|Laura King | Times Staff Writer

GAZA CITY — Shouts of "Revenge! Revenge!" rose into the steamy air as tens of thousands of Palestinians, many waving the green flag of Hamas, marched Friday in a tumultuous funeral procession for the radical Islamic group's most senior leader to be killed by Israel during nearly three years of violence.

Even as Hamas swore to target every Israeli man, woman and child to avenge the death of one of its founding members, Ismail abu Shanab, Israel signaled that it stood ready to carry out assassinations of other top leaders of armed Palestinian groups -- a policy it had abandoned during nearly two months of relative calm.

Israel also pressed ahead with a campaign to hunt down other wanted men -- and take them dead or alive. In the West Bank city of Nablus, two men identified by Israeli security sources as members of a terrorist cell were killed when soldiers opened fire on their hide-out on a hospital rooftop. No attempt was made to arrest them, the sources said.

Israel's targeting of Abu Shanab -- who died Thursday when the car he was riding in was obliterated by helicopter-fired missiles on a Gaza street -- came in the wake of a Jerusalem suicide bombing two days earlier that killed 20 people, six of them children.

Amid every indication that the violence was likely to intensify, few ordinary people on either side seemed to believe that an American-backed peace plan could be salvaged.

Israelis ushered in a solemn Sabbath, the first since the bombing, still reeling from the sights of the past days: tiny coffins being lowered into stony ground, front-page newspaper photographs of maimed children reunited with wounded parents, a forlorn, makeshift shrine in a busy traffic circle where body bags had lain.

"Now we have to prepare for the possibility that we will return once again to a whirlpool of blood, days of tension and battle ... that might deteriorate into all-out warfare," commentator Alex Fishman wrote in Friday's editions of the Yediot Aharonot newspaper.

More than half the Israelis surveyed by the Dahaf agency for a poll published Friday in Yediot Aharonot said they expected terrorist attacks to increase in the next three months. Fewer than 40% said Israel should continue with measures it promised as part of the peace initiative known as the "road map."

In Gaza, the enormous turnout for the funeral of Abu Shanab -- the largest such gathering since the outbreak of the intifada, or uprising, in September 2000 -- boded ill for the already faltering government of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen.

The killing came as Abbas and his security chief, Mohammed Dahlan, were trying to secure permission from Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to round up Palestinian militants, seize weapons and deprive the radical groups of their funding sources.

In his first comments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the bus bombing in Jerusalem, President Bush urged the Palestinians to crack down on suicide bombers.

"If people want there to be peace in the Middle East, if the Palestinians want to see their own state, they've got to dismantle the terrorist networks," Bush told reporters Friday as he landed in Seattle for a campaign fund-raiser.

"Those people who conduct suicide bombings are not interested in the vision that I have outlined, and that is a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel in peace," Bush said.

To increase pressure on Hamas, Bush also ordered a freeze on the assets of six Hamas leaders and five European charities that he said provide financial support for the group. The United States has already frozen Hamas' assets. U.S. officials suspect that the groups and individuals identified Friday have most of their money in Europe, and they hope the action will persuade European governments to impose a similar freeze.

The action also prohibits financial transactions between Americans and these individuals and groups.

In Gaza City on Friday, as volatile crowds surged through the rundown streets, there were outbursts of fury not only at Israel, but also at Abbas for his perceived willingness to carry out a crackdown. From small knots of men, shouts of "Abu Mazen is a collaborator!" were heard.

Hamas, which is dedicated to Israel's destruction, already enjoys far greater public support in Gaza than the Palestinian Authority. The death of 53-year-old Abu Shanab, a highly regarded figure here, appeared to further bolster the militant group.

The ranks of mourners included not only the usual complement of masked men firing AK-47s into the air but also many ordinary Gazans. Old men hobbled along, leaning heavily on canes, and little boys wore Hamas flags, which trailed from their necks like superheroes' capes.

"I just came to show my respect," said Yasser Faqi, 25, who held his wide-eyed 5-year-old son Khalil firmly by the hand in the crush. "What Israel did here was a crime."

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