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Friday, 6 December, 2002, 20:15 GMT
Gaza killings prompt Palestinian rage
Palestinians burying the Gaza victims
There is uncertainty over how many victims were civilians
Thousands of angry Palestinians have taken to the streets of the al-Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip to bury 10 people killed in overnight fighting with Israeli troops.

Mourners, some wearing masks, followed the bodies of those killed through the narrow streets of the camp chanting "revenge, revenge".

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Ariel Sharon said al-Qaeda members had entered Gaza recently
"We are committed to the continuation of jihad and martyr operations until our land is liberated," members of the militant group Hamas shouted through loudspeakers.

There is ongoing controversy about the identity of the victims.

An initial account by a United Nations official in the camp - that eight were unarmed civilians, including two who worked for the UN - has now been contradicted by a more senior UN spokesman who told the BBC that no conclusions about the victims' identities had yet been reached.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan condemned the killings and urged the Israeli army to exercise greater restraint.

Israel says at least five of those killed were members of Hamas and the group itself has issued a statement saying six of its people died in the raid, including two from its military wing.

The camp's Mayor, Kamal Baghdadi and an official from a nearby hospital, Ahmed Rabah, have said they believe four of the dead were from the Mansour family, whose home they say was hit in the raid.

Heavy exchanges

Palestinian witnesses said Israeli troops entered al-Bureij camp in about 40 tanks and other armoured vehicles, triggering heavy exchanges of fire with Palestinian gunmen.

Local hospital officials said another 10 people - including a family of five - were wounded before the Israeli troops pulled out.

The Israeli Defence Force said its troops - who were backed up by helicopter gunships - came under intense fire from close quarters during the operation against "terrorist targets and infrastructure" in the area.

Map of Gaza showing Bureij camp
Two Palestinian homes were targeted in the raid - the house of Ayman Sheshnya, an activist from Mr Arafat's movement Fatah who is wanted by Israel, and the home of Jamal Ismail, a suicide bomber who blew himself up last month.

The incursion came hours after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said that militants from Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network were active in Gaza - a claim derided by Palestinians.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat described the incursion as "Israeli terrorism".

"It is a new massacre," he said. "What happened is a continuation of the massacres against the Palestinian people."

"This is Israeli terrorism against our children, our women and our holy shrines from Rafah [in southern Gaza] to Jenin [in the West Bank]. Isn't what they are doing daily terrorism?"

Israel regularly sends troops into the Gaza Strip to seek out Palestinian militants it blames for suicide attacks that have killed scores of Israelis since the Palestinian uprising began.

Recently, it has also destroyed the homes of suspected militants to prevent attacks, or in retaliation for them.

The BBC's Orla Guerin reports from Gaza
"The United Nations is demanding answers"
The BBC's Barbara Plett
"This was the home of a Palestinian fighter on Israel's wanted list"
Avi Pazner, Israeli government spokesman
"The terrorists... are using civilians as human shields"

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See also:

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