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Friday, 25 January, 2002, 07:06 GMT
Hamas vows revenge for militant's death
A Hamas rally
There is no end is in sight for the cycle of tit-for-tat attacks
The Palestinian Islamic militant group Hamas has threatened to retaliate against Israel for the killing on Thursday of one of its members, Baker Hamdan, and five other Palestinian men.

The Israeli Government is fully responsible for what will happen to the Israeli people - disasters as a consequence of these attacks

Hamas member Mahmoud al-Zahar
A Hamas leader in Gaza described Hamdan's killing as a "drop in the sea of Israeli crimes".

"Israel has forgotten that there are retaliations to these attacks," Mahmoud al-Zahar, told the Reuters news agency.

"The message... is that the Israeli Government is fully responsible for what will happen to the Israeli people - disasters as a consequence of these attacks."

Thursday's incidents

On Thursday night, Israel said it killed two Palestinians who were trying to infiltrate a Jewish settlement in the southern Gaza Strip.

Palestinian security sources said the Israeli army told them they were ready to hand over the bodies of the two men.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
The US is putting pressure on Arafat to arrest militants
The killings came just hours after Hamdan was killed by missiles fired from Israeli helicopter gunships in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis.

Witnesses said at least two missiles hit the car. Hospital officials said two other passengers were severely wounded.

After the strike, about 500 Palestinians carried Hamdan's body through Khan Younis with gunmen firing their rifles in the air amid calls for revenge.

Controversial policy

Thursday's helicopter gunship attack appears to be in line with Israel's recent policy of targeting militants it says are planning or involved in attacks on Israelis.

It followed a shooting spree on Tuesday by a Palestinian gunman who killed two Israeli women in Jerusalem's city centre.

The Israelis say Hamdan had been involved in the recent killing of four Israeli soldiers at an army post in Gaza and was planning more attacks.

Gaza protest against blockade of Arafat headquarters
Israel's blockade of Mr Arafat's HQ has angered Palestinians
The army said he had been arrested briefly by Palestinian police but was then released.

Three other Palestinians were killed earlier on Thursday - two in what appeared to be a botched suicide mission in Gaza and another in a clash with Israeli soldiers in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Palestinian leaders have appealed for international intervention, saying they cannot enforce a ceasefire while West Bank towns remain under siege and Israel continues to kill suspected militants.

But White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Bush understood why Israel "has taken the action that it takes, and it is up to Chairman Arafat to demonstrate the leadership to combat terrorism".

And Mr Bush has now invited Mr Sharon to meet in Washington on 7 February.

It will be Mr Sharon's second visit to the United States in just over two months, whereas Mr Arafat has not yet met the US president since he took office a year ago.

The BBC's Caroline Wyatt
"Another martyr for the Palestinian cause"
See also:

24 Jan 02 | Middle East
'Suicide squad' killed in Gaza blast
23 Jan 02 | Middle East
Crowds attend Hamas funeral
23 Jan 02 | Middle East
US puts pressure on Arafat
22 Jan 02 | Middle East
Militant released after Israeli raid
03 Dec 01 | profiles
Who are Hamas?
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