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May 02, 2003

Militants Pledge Revenge at Gaza Funerals

Not The Road but Road Rage--perhaps a civil war?
- Islamic militants pledged revenge attacks and shouted their opposition to new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas on Friday at a mass funeral for 11 Palestinians killed in an Israeli raid in the Gaza Strip.

Tens of thousands of mourners, including gunmen from the militant Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades affiliated with Abbas's Fatah faction, marched from Gaza's main mosque to the city cemetery.

"No, no to Abu Mazen," some in the crowd shouted, using the nom de guerre of the reformist prime minister who has voiced his opposition to militants having weapons and accepted a U.S.-backed "road map" to peace presented on Wednesday.

"Our men will strike Israeli cities," Hamas loudspeakers blared as militants, some of them masked, marched with automatic rifles and mortar launchers in their hands. "Revenge is coming soon."

Twelve Palestinians, including a two-year-old boy, were killed on Thursday when Israeli forces thrust into a Gaza neighborhood in a sweep for wanted militants. The toddler was buried the same day.

Witnesses said six of the dead were civilians, including a 13-year-old boy and a 17-year-old, and six were militants.

Israel launched the incursion a day after a British Muslim suicide bomber blew himself up at a Tel Aviv night club, killing three people. Hamas and the al-Aqsa Brigades claimed responsibility for the attack.

Israeli security forces continued their search for a second British Muslim who dropped his explosive belt at the scene and fled.

The surge in violence in a 31-month-old Palestinian uprising for statehood was a blow to efforts by the "Quartet" of peace mediators -- the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia -- to persuade both sides to begin implementing the "road map."


Secretary of State Colin Powell is expected to begin talks in Israel and the West Bank toward the end of next week on pressing ahead with the peace plan that envisages immediate confidence-building measures and a Palestinian state by 2005.

The "road map" calls on the Palestinians to "undertake visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt and restrain individuals and groups conducting and planning attacks on Israelis anywhere."

Israel has said that once that happens, it would be prepared to pull troops out of some of the Palestinian areas they reoccupied last year following a spate of suicide bombings