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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 June, 2003, 20:14 GMT 21:14 UK
Rocket attacks harden mood in Gaza

By James Rodgers
BBC correspondent in Gaza

Four Israeli helicopter strikes in less than two days have left many people in Gaza stunned.

Car burns after Wednesday's strike in Gaza City
Israeli gunships swooped after a suicide bombing in Jerusalem
The cynics who said that the latest plan for peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would never succeed have a feeling that they are about to be proved right.

The Israelis - rocked by another suicide bombing - have restated their determination to hit Hamas hard. Their strikes have angered militants and civilians alike.

No one expected the peace plan, known as the roadmap, to have an easy start.

Few people in Gaza have ever been more than guardedly optimistic. The most that they dared to expect was a lull in the conflict, lasting a few weeks, perhaps a few months.

That may yet come. But even the optimists have seen their hopes shaken in the last few days.

'No wish for peace'

It began in the middle of Tuesday morning. The calm of a quiet summer morning was shaken by a series of loud explosions.

I looked out of my window to see columns of white and dark brown smoke rise a few hundred metres away.

Relatives and medic treat Palestinian victim of rocket strike
Gaza has been shaken by rockets two days running
People in the street below craned their necks skywards. Others sought shelter.

Two Israeli helicopter gunships passed overhead, apparently trying to see if they had hit their target.

They had, but not with the force they had intended. Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, of late the most outspoken leader of the militant group Hamas, survived with only minor injuries. One of his bodyguards, and a civilian woman in her 50s, were killed.

Mohammed Abu Arab, 33, owns a shop on the crossroads where Mr Rantissi's car was hit. He sat, his head and foot in bandages, among glass shattered in the blast. He said he had never experienced anything like what he had just been through.

"It shows there is no peace with the Israelis," he concluded. "They don't want peace. They are stronger than us, with their planes and tanks. We are civilians."

War to go on

At the hospital, Hamas supporters gathered to celebrate their leader's escape. From his hospital bed, he was defiant.

"We will maintain our jihad [holy war] and resistance until we kick out every single criminal Zionist from our land," he vowed.

Later in the evening, thousands of Hamas supporters marched through Gaza City to the hospital. They chanted slogans cursing Abu Mazen, the colloquial name for the Palestinian Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas.

He is in a difficult position.

One of the main Palestinian obligations under the terms of the roadmap is to curb the activities of militant groups. But Hamas and others have rejected the road map, and refused a ceasefire.

On Wednesday evening, after the helicopters hit for the third time in two days, those views seemed to be gaining support.

Halima, 63, who was visiting a friend at the hospital, said she wanted Abu Mazen to stop talking to the Israelis.

"He's failed in his mission," she declared.


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