Palestinians shell Gaza settlements after Israelis kill leading Hamas commander

Thursday, October 21st 2004, 10:10 am
By: News On 6

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) _ Palestinian militants fired mortar rounds and a homemade rocket at Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip on Friday after Israel killed one of Hamas' most important leaders and his aide in a missile strike.

Tens of thousands of angry Hamas supporters threatened revenge against Israel during the funeral procession for Adnan al-Ghoul, 46, a founder and deputy chief of the Hamas military wing who had been on Israel's most-wanted list since 1990.

``Hamas is loyal to the blood of its martyrs and will continue on the path of holy war and resistance until we achieve victory by defeating the Zionists,'' Ismail Hanieh, a top Hamas leader in Gaza, said in a rare public appearance at a Gaza City mosque.

Hamas, which opposes the Jewish state's existence, has killed hundreds of Israelis in the past four years of fighting.

Israel has waged a relentless campaign of targeted killings against Hamas leaders, and Israeli analysts said Thursday's strike on al-Ghoul dealt a major blow to the militant group. Al-Ghoul was an expert in making bombs, crude anti-tank missiles and the Qassam rockets the group has fired at Israeli communities.

Al-Ghoul's assistant, Imad Abbas, also was killed.

Nevertheless, militants fired about 15 mortar rounds early Friday at the Neve Dekalim settlement and adjacent military posts, damaging four houses. Settlers reported mortar shells falling on two other southern Gaza settlements. The army said militants later fired a homemade rocket at another settlement.

There were no injuries in any of the incidents.

One militant preparing to fire a mortar shell at Neve Dekalim was killed and another was gravely injured. Palestinians said the dead man was a known Hamas activist. It was unclear if the men were hit by Israeli fire or the mortar shell exploded prematurely.

Later Friday, a mourner was shot dead at the funeral procession for the dead militant. Witnesses said Israeli soldiers guarding Neve Dekalim, some 300 yards away, killed the unarmed civilian. The army did not comment.

Violence has increased in Gaza since Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced plans earlier this year to withdraw from the volatile coastal strip as both sides try to claim victory ahead of the pullout. Sharon is to present his Gaza withdrawal plan to parliament for a vote Tuesday.

To stop militants in Gaza from firing rockets into Israel, the army launched a 17-day raid into northern Gaza that ended last week

A U.N. Reliefs and Works Agency report released Friday said the ``Days of Penitence'' offensive killed 107 Palestinians, wounded 431 others, left nearly 700 people homeless and caused more than $3 million in damage.

Hamas' ability to strike back at Israel has been severely weakened by a string of Israeli assassinations of its top leaders. Al-Ghoul narrowly escaped two previous attempts on his life and had been in hiding for years.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath condemned the strike as ``the kind of behavior which makes it very, very difficult to reach a cease-fire and very difficult to create the environment for peace.''

Shaath, who was speaking in Brussels, Belgium, said such strikes simply incite more attacks.