Mass funeral held for Palestinians killed in Israeli raid

Monday, April 21, 2003

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- More than 15,000 mourners waving rifles and Palestinian flags crowded the streets of Rafah Sunday to bury five Palestinians killed during a late-night Israeli military operation in the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip.

The violence came as Palestinian leaders tried to find a compromise that would allow Palestinian prime minister-designate Mahmoud Abbas to win parliament approval for his Cabinet by Wednesday's deadline.

If the deadline is missed, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is seen as likely to appoint another senior member of Fatah Party, his political movement, to the post.

An official present at Saturday's meeting said Abbas threatened to resign unless his Cabinet picks were approved -- which would be a major setback for efforts to end 30 months of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

President Bush has said a new Palestinian government must be in place before the unveiling of a U.S.-backed peace plan. The Palestinians have given themselves a Wednesday deadline.

In the overnight raid in Rafah, Israeli soldiers destroyed two tunnels used for smuggling weapons under the Gaza-Egypt border and blew up the house of Mahmoud Abu Shamala, a leader in the militant Hamas group, the army said. Troops pulled out Sunday morning.

Gunbattles left five Palestinians dead, including a 15-year-old boy. An Israeli soldier was also killed.

"God is great!" the crowds chanted as they snaked through the streets of the Rafah camp, where more than 60,000 people live in cramped quarters. Two sections of the camp are known hotbeds of violent Islamic groups.

In the West Bank town of Qalqiliya, troops on Sunday shot and killed Abderrahman Abed, 15, who witnesses said was with a group throwing stones and firebombs at troops.

The impasse over forming a new Palestinian Cabinet continued.

Arafat appointed Abbas under intense international pressure to reform his corruption-plagued regime and share power. The United States and Israel wanted Arafat sidelined, saying he is linked to terrorism, but since then, Arafat has tried to retain control by vetoing key Cabinet appointments.

Abbas and Arafat held separate talks Sunday with members of Fatah, which dominates the Palestinian legislature. Arafat heads Fatah, and Abbas is his longtime deputy.

Abbas stormed out of a meeting with Arafat Saturday after they disagreed over the makeup of the Cabinet. Abbas and Arafat have been at odds over the role of former Gaza security chief Mohammed Dahlan, tapped by Abbas as minister of state for internal affairs, a role which would have some control over security matters.

Control of security forces is key to a U.S.-backed peace plan toward ending violence and establishing a Palestinian state. The plan is to be unveiled as soon as Abbas takes office.

But on Sunday, some observers said Abbas might fail to form a government.

"There is a very big chance ... that Abu Mazen (Abbas) will not succeed," Palestinian legislator Soufian Abu Zaida said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon praised Abbas last week and stressed that he was ready to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians that would involve territorial concessions.

Altogether, 11 Palestinians and an Israeli soldier were killed over the weekend. Since fighting erupted 30 months ago, 2,266 people have been killed on the Palestinian side and 759 on the Israeli side.

In the West Bank towns of Bethlehem and Ramallah, hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated Sunday to protest the killing of Associated Press Television News cameraman Nazeh Darwazeh, who died a day earlier while covering a clash in Nablus.

Many carried Darwazeh's picture, wore black scarves over their mouths to symbolize censorship and chanted "Justice and truth!"

Doctors said Darwazeh, 43, died of a bullet wound to the head. Palestinian witnesses said he was shot by an Israeli soldier, while the military said there were exchanges of gunfire and it was not clear who was responsible for his death.

Darwazeh had worked for APTN for two years and leaves a wife and five children.

The local Foreign Press Association issued a statement calling for a full investigation into Darwazeh's killing.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: