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Gazans angry and unbowed

By Martin Patience
BBC News, Gaza

Palestinians at funeral of five people killed in Jabaliya
Scores of Palestinians have been killed in the past few days
The black marks on the roads leading into Gaza City were an indication of the earlier bloodshed.

Palestinians had dragged tyres onto the road and set them alight.

They hoped that the smokescreen would stop Israeli drones and Apache helicopters - both armed with rockets - from hitting their targets. But it was a futile gesture.

On Saturday, at least 60 Palestinians were killed in one of the bloodiest days of fighting between Israelis and Palestinians in years.

The death toll from Israeli air strikes included at least 25 civilians, including nine children and three women.

The other fatalities were Palestinian militants - the majority of them from Hamas, the Islamic movement which controls Gaza.

'Hysterical' action

Israeli officials say that the military operation was designed to stop the frequent rocket fire from Gaza into towns in southern Israel. Since 2000, 13 Israelis have been killed by these rockets.

Personally, I don't agree with Palestinians firing rockets into Israel - but if you push people into the corner they are going to fight back
Ahmed Burai
Relative of victim
In Gaza today, the streets played host to funeral processions. Speakers stacked on minivans blasted out verses from the Koran as hundreds of mourners trailed behind the vehicles.

One of the recent victims was a six-month-old baby boy killed when a roof collapsed on top of him.

A family relative, Ahmed Burai, 27, said the baby's mother found out her son was dead when she heard it announced on the radio.

He accused Israel of acting "hysterically" over the rocket attacks from Gaza and said that its military operation could prove counterproductive.

"They are launching all these attacks that are killing civilians," said Mr Burai. "Personally, I don't agree with Palestinians firing rockets into Israel.

"But if you push people into the corner they are going to fight back."

For many Gazans, the violence is the latest example of Israeli punishment for their support of Hamas.

The Islamic movement won the parliamentary elections in 2006, after which the Palestinian Authority was subjected to an economic embargo by the international community because of Hamas' refusal to recognise Israel.

'Let Hamas govern'

Hamas, whose stronghold is Gaza, calls for the destruction of Israel and the return of Palestinian refugees who left or were forced to leave their homes during the creation of Israel in 1948.

They need to be given a chance, they need to breathe - if you give Hamas a political opportunity then it will only moderate the movement
Ahmed Abdullah
Retired headmaster
It is considered a terrorist organisation by Israel, the European Union and the US.

Following the Hamas takeover of Gaza last summer, the embargo has been intensified and this coastal territory has been largely shut off from the outside world.

Israel, which controls most of Gaza's borders, only allows essential goods - such as medicine and basic foodstuffs - to enter the territory. Almost none of Gaza's 1.5 million citizens are allowed to leave.

Ahmed Abdullah, 61, a retired headmaster, says he spent the last two days terrified in his home as fighting raged round him.

He had no candles or batteries - the economic boycott has led to widespread shortages - and following an electrical power cut sat in the dark unable to obtain information from his radio about the fighting.

Mr Abdullah says the only way to stop the violence is to allow to Hamas govern.

"We voted democratically and we're punished for our choice," he said.

"They need to be given a chance, they need to breathe. If you give Hamas a political opportunity then it will only moderate the movement."

Ceasefire offer

The rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel are carried out by Hamas members as well as other Palestinian militant groups.

Palestinian try to form human chain in protest at blockade - photo 25 February
Gazans are desperate to end Israel's blockade
In the past, Hamas leaders have spoken of a possible ceasefire, but Israeli officials reject these moves as a ploy.

In any agreement, Hamas would want the embargo on the territory lifted as well.

Palestinian analysts believe that this is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

Some believe the Israeli attacks on Hamas are part of a broader plan to crush the organisation.

"What we see here is a war against Hamas," said Eyad Sarraj, a political analyst.

"Israel wants to destroy the movement as they tried to do against Hezbollah in Lebanon a year-and-a-half ago."

For now, people in Gaza are burying their dead in what appears to be a lull in the fighting.

But most Gazans expect yet more funerals in the coming days.



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