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Last Updated: Saturday, 8 July 2006, 20:34 GMT 21:34 UK
Anger and grief amid Gaza rubble
By Martin Patience
BBC News, Beit Lahiya

Ali Khatar, 71, opened his front door for the first time in two days to find his kitchen wall completely destroyed and the engine of his minibus sheared off by an Israeli tank.

Ali Khatar
Ali Khatar's home and vehicle were damaged as Israel fought militants
For 48 hours, Mr Khatar, his wife, daughter, and two grandchildren, huddled in the back room of their house as Israeli tanks and soldiers fought Palestinian militants in the street outside.

Whenever the family heard gunfire they dived to the floor, fearful that a bullet would penetrate the house's breezeblock walls.

But by Saturday morning, the Israeli army had pulled out of Beit Lahiya, leaving churned-up roads and agricultural plots; damaged water pipes and electricity lines; and demolished walls and shattered windows.

"We were like prisoners. The children were living in fear," says Mr Khatar, standing beside his front door, which is now lying on the side of the road.

I'm against firing Qassams (rockets) into Israel - but if I had a house full of Qassams right now, I'd fire them all into Israel
Mahmoud Ataf
Uncle of dead men
Israel says the military incursion was to stop Palestinian militants from firing crude home-made rockets into Israeli communities lying close to the Gaza Strip.

More than 30 Palestinian civilians and militants were killed, and dozens more injured, during the Israeli incursion. An Israeli solider was killed during the clashes.

Mr Khatar is highly critical of the Israeli army for the deaths and damage it caused.

But he says the Palestinian militants should stop using the area to fire rockets.

"But how can we stop them?" he asks. "If we say or try to do anything they will beat us."

Funeral tent for Palestinians
Palestinians gathered to mourn the two men

Along the street, Hatam Atar, 29, a farmer, surveys his vegetable patch behind his house churned up by Israel tanks.

The irrigation pipes are a tangled mess and his hen house and rabbit hutch lie flattened on the soil.

But Mr Atar says this is the least of his worries. Two of his cousins were killed during the clashes.

"They were helping the militants by giving them sandbags to protect themselves from the bullets," he says.

At the end of the street, a mourning tent with a green canopy has been erected to mark their deaths.

About 60 members of the Atar family sit on a line of white plastic seats, standing up and shaking hands and listening to condolences as mourners arrive.

Prime minister's visit

The men are distracted when a black Mercedes arrives at the tent and out steps the Palestinian prime minister of the Hamas-led government, Ismail Haniya.

As a crowd gathers round, Mr Haniya walks up to the uncle of the two dead Palestinians and plants a kiss on each of his cheeks in a traditional greeting.

The uncle, Mahmoud Ataf, 47, a truck driver, says he will miss his nephews dearly.

"I'm against firing Qassams (rockets) into Israel," adds Mr Atar. "But if I had a house full of Qassams right now, I'd fire them all into Israel."




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