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Last Updated: Friday, 10 November 2006, 15:50 GMT
Gazans debate response to killings
By Alan Johnston
BBC News, Gaza

The Israeli shells that killed 18 Palestinians in Gaza - mostly women and children - came crashing down on a quiet road called Hamad Street, in the town of Beit Hanoun.

Palestinian youths watch Israeli manoeuvres near Beit Hanoun
Civilians in Beit Hanoun are at the mercy of Israeli military raids

There is still rubble in the alleyway that was left slick with blood after Wednesday's deadly dawn bombardment, and all around the walls are scarred by shrapnel.

Now, in a clearing behind one of the houses, mourners are gathering in the shade of a huge canopy.

They will remember the dead, and reflect on what their deaths may mean for the world beyond the courtyards of Hamad Street.

The Israelis say their fire was meant for open ground that Palestinian militants have used to launch rockets into a nearby Israeli town.

But the army says a technical error caused the shells to fall short, and plunge into the homes where families were sleeping.

Calls for retaliation

Many Palestinians though will always believe that this was an act of cold-blooded killing. Their leaders have described what happened as a crime and a massacre.

There have been calls for violent retaliation.

It's normal to react against the Israelis and the Israeli army by launching missiles and suicide bombing. This we consider a normal reaction to the massacre
Palestinian Authority guard
The most senior figure in the ruling Hamas movement, Khaled Meshaal said: "Our condemnation will not only be in words, but in actions too. Resistance acts rather than speaks."

Militant leaders have said that Palestinian suicide bombers should strike again at the cities of Israel.

And some of the mourners on Hamad Street agreed. Among them were two Palestinian Authority soldiers, dressed in military fatigues and armed with Kalashnikov rifles.

"Children were sleeping," said one of them. "Bombs killed them while they slept. They had done nothing.

"It's normal to react against the Israelis and the Israeli army by launching missiles and suicide bombing. This we consider a normal reaction to the massacre."

This is the argument of the groups like Islamic Jihad which launch rockets across Gaza's border into Israeli territory almost every day.

They regard not just the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza as occupied territory. In their view, Israel itself sits on stolen Palestinian land and they talk of - ultimately - seeking its destruction.

Divided opinion

Militants often say, however, that their rocket attacks are just retaliation for the Israeli army's very frequent raids, air strikes and killings of Palestinians.

But opinions among the Hamad Street mourners were divided. Not everybody wanted to see a violent response to Wednesday's shelling - despite the horrors they had witnessed.

Palestinians should use their mind carefully... should go to the peace process. We should not stop negotiating with the Israelis because they are pressuring us to lose our control and do unjustified actions against them
Nasser Hamad

An old man called Muhammad Hussein broke down as he talked of the deaths of his sister and other relatives.

"They were all killed - pieces!" he shouted as he wept. "Thrown in pieces. I saw them! I put them in a sack! Eighteen people - they were killed."

But he said there should be no retaliatory suicide bombings.

"I don't like it," he said. "I myself don't like it. I am more than 70 years old. I want to live in peace!"

A much younger man called Nasser Hamad agreed.

"Palestinians should think carefully," he said.

"Palestinians should go to the peace process. We should not stop negotiating with the Israelis because they are pressuring us to lose our control and do unjustified actions against them."

He described suicide bombings as an ineffective tool.

One-sided conflict

Israel's argument is that its people in towns and villages bordering Gaza face a daily threat from missile fire.

It says no nation would tolerate this kind of random bombardment of its civilians, and that its military pressure on Gaza is entirely legitimate self defence.

But Mr Hamad dismissed this.

"This is just an excuse to justify their attacks on Palestinians," he said.

Mr Hamad argued that the rocket fire from Gaza had negligible impact.

"We don't have the capacity to attack Israel with effective arms," he said.

It is true that the missiles are crudely made devices. They very rarely kill, but they do often cause panic and minor injury.

And the casualty figures reveal how very one-sided Gaza's conflict is.

In the past nine days alone around 80 Palestinians have been killed. And altogether, close to 400 have died - many of them civilians - since the Israeli army intensified operations in late June.

Over the same period, on the Israeli side, there have been three deaths. They were all soldiers, and one of them was killed accidentally in friendly fire.




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