GAZA CITY, Oct 23: Seven Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire in a raid on the Gaza Strip on Monday during festivities marking the end of Ramazan, in an operation president Mahmud Abbas slammed as a “massacre.”
The seven, including a local militant leader, were killed during an Israeli incursion in the north of the territory as Palestinians celebrated Eidul Fitr.
Another 25 people were wounded, three of them seriously, as a result of the tank fire in Beit Lahiya, Palestinian security and medical officials said.
Witnesses said Israeli forces opened fire and killed Atta al-Shimbari, a local chief of the Popular Resistance Committees, a militant group that claimed joint responsibility for a cross-border raid on June 25 in which two Israeli soldiers were killed and one seized.
The Israelis opened fire as Shimbari was at his family’s house for Eid. Two of his brothers, a cousin, a nephew and a neighbour were also killed.
The June 25 raid sparked a massive offensive by the Jewish state, which has left more than 250 Palestinians and two Israeli soldiers dead in Gaza in four months.
The army said it had identified hitting 10 armed gunmen as its forces conducted an operation aimed at stopping militants from firing rockets into Israel.
“It is a clear assassination operation,” Abu Mujahid, a spokesman for the militant group, said. “Atta al-Shimbari was not in the process of carrying out a military operation.”
Abbas also slammed the raid.
“The president condemns this massacre... at a time when the Palestinian people are celebrating the feast of Eidul Fitr,” said a statement from his office.
“The president demands the international community to intervene as quickly as possible to stop the Israeli massacres, particularly in the Gaza Strip.”
Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya had earlier appealed for Palestinian unity and continuing resistance to Israel following deadly clashes between supporters of the Islamists and Abbas’s Fatah faction.
“Stop the bloodshed, stop using weapons against your brothers, and unite,” Mr Haniya told a crowd of about 20,000 gathered in Gaza City.
Supporters of his ruling Hamas movement and Fatah have clashed repeatedly since the Islamists routed Fatah from power in January elections, with the confrontations increasing during the past weeks.
On Sunday, a member of the security services loyal to Abbas was killed in clashes with Hamas forces, two days after gunmen opened fire near Haniya’s convoy, the latest of more than two dozen people killed.
“It is not the first siege imposed on the Palestinian people and on Palestine, but it is the first under which we will make no concessions, we will not fall,” Mr Haniya declared.
“It is the first siege during which we say ‘no’ to America, ‘thousands times no’ to concessions on Palestine.
“We will not bend. We are dying, but we will not cede a step from Jerusalem, our rights and the right of return for refugees,” he said, to approving chants of “Allah Akbar!” (God is the greatest).
“Many homes are living in sadness. Some of them, who could not do their charitable duty, cried last night and could not feed their children,” he said. “Any other people, faced with such a siege, such difficulties, such destruction, would have given in.”
Hamas’s refusal to recognize the Jewish state, even implicitly, has led to fruitless months-long talks between Haniya and Abbas over forming a national unity government which could lead to the resumption of aid.
The two leaders are also at loggerheads over security forces in the occupied West Bank.
Meanwhile, Israeli leaders are considering whether to expand an offensive in the Gaza Strip aimed at recovering a captured soldier and stopping cross-border rocket fire.
“We are afraid that things are headed for the worse,” said Samir Ali, 31, a Gaza City taxi driver. “The situation has been worsened by the internal fighting. I wish I could know what they are fighting for.”—Agencies