Palestinian fury at bloody Israeli strike on Gaza camp

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The Independent Online

Thousands of Palestinians marched in angry protest yesterday to the funerals of 14 Hamas militants killed overnight on Monday when Israeli helicopters rocketed a training field in Shadaiyeh, one of the most crowded and impoverished districts of Gaza City.

Thousands of Palestinians marched in angry protest yesterday to the funerals of 14 Hamas militants killed overnight on Monday when Israeli helicopters rocketed a training field in Shadaiyeh, one of the most crowded and impoverished districts of Gaza City.

It was the bloodiest carnage in Gaza since May, when 31 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers died in a week of heavy fighting.

Doctors at Shifa hospital had difficulty identifying five of yesterday's dead, whose bodies had been ripped apart by the explosions. Dr Akram Abu Hasira, the medical director, said five of the 26 wounded were in intensive care and six in the operating theatre.

Led by masked men brandishing Kalashnikov assault rifles, mourners bore the bodies, wrapped in black and green Islamic flags, to the cemetery through an avenue of burning tyres. "Allah is great," they chanted. "The response," a Hamas leaflet threatened, "will be swift and like an earthquake". The helicopters struck soon after midnight a week after two Hamas suicide bombers killed 16 bus passengers in the southern Israeli town of Beersheba. Captain Jacob Dallal, a military spokesman, said: "We will attack Hamas wherever and whenever we can. This is war. They're blowing up our buses in Beersheba; we're going to attack their terror bases."

The army claimed the target, a football pitch named after the assassinated Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, was used for training terrorists to plant and activate explosive devices, to launch rocket-propelled grenades and homemade rockets and to infiltrate Israeli settlements and military bases.

"We have every right to attack such a base," Captain Dallal insisted. "The people there were all terrorists."

Sami Abu Zuhrei, a Hamas spokesman, was undeterred. "We will continue our struggle," he vowed. "This massacre will not weaken the resistance. We cannot stand by and not react to the crimes of the Israeli occupation."

Ahmed Qureia, the Palestinian Prime Minister, said any act of revenge by Hamas would be justified.

Although the Islamic militants at first claimed the field was being used for a "military scout camp", almost all of the dead and wounded were bearded men in their twenties wearing camouflage fatigues.

Samer Ahmad, 29, was sitting with two friends outside his house, which overlooks the field, at the time of the attack. "About 50 uniformed men came after evening prayers and stayed until after midnight," he said. "They were marching and doing military training.

"I saw a light and a big explosion. It was so powerful that I felt a pain in my chest. The helicopters fired five or six missiles altogether. I saw a man with blood all over his face and one arm blown off. I moved his body, but he was already dead."

In Shifa hospital, Abu Ramadan was being treated for a broken neck, broken arms and legs. He was unable to speak. His brother, who declined to give his name, said Abu Ramadan had been hit by the first missile and flung about 12 metres.

Earlier this week, Israeli bulldozers began flattening the ground for a southern stretch of its controversial separation barrier. Last week's bombers had infiltrated Beersheba from the West Bank town of Hebron in an area where the planned fence had yet to be built.

Shaul Mofaz, the Defence Minister, said the barrier would be erected closer to the pre-1967 border than originally intended. Israel would try to comply with a ruling by its own Supreme Court that the route must balance Israeli security with Palestinian human rights. A new route for the northern fence is due to be published this month, which is expected to leave many West Bank Jewish settlements outside.

* Five Palestine football players were refused permission by Israel to travel to Qatar for today's World Cup Asian zone qualifier against Uzbekistan, a Palestine soccer official has said. "We have a serious problem here," said Tayseer Barakat, director for international affairs at the Palestine Football Association (PFA). "With the match being tomorrow, they have given up hope." Palestine are having to play their "home" games in Qatar for security reasons.

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