GAZA CITY (AFP) â€” Seven Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire in a raid on the Gaza Strip Monday during festivities marking the end of Ramadan, in an operation President Mahmoud Abbas slammed as a “massacre”. The seven, including a senior fighter, were killed during an Israeli incursion in the north of the territory as Palestinians celebrated the first day of Eid Al Fitr, which marks the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan.
Another 25 people were wounded, three of them seriously, as a result of tank fire in Beit Lahiya, Palestinian security and medical officials said. Witnesses said Israeli forces opened fire and killed Atta Shimbari, a local chief of the Popular Resistance Committees, a 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 fighters when its forces conducted an operation aimed at stopping fighters from firing rockets into Israel.
“Our forces have been operating against Qassam rockets firing areas in northern Gaza. We have considerably reduced the volume of rocket fire in recent days,” southern command spokesman Major Tal Lev-Ram told AFP.
But Abu Mujahid, a spokesman for the group, said the operation was “a clear assassination operation. Atta Shimbari was not in the process of carrying out a military operation.” Abbas too slammed the raid.
“The president condemns this massacre… at a time when the Palestinian people are celebrating the feast of Eid Al 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 Haniyeh had earlier appealed for Palestinian unity and continuing resistance to Israel following deadly clashes between supporters of the Islamists and Abbas’ Fateh faction. “Stop the bloodshed, stop using weapons against your brothers, and unite,” Haniyeh told a crowd of about 20,000 gathered in Gaza City.
Supporters of his ruling Hamas movement and Fateh have clashed repeatedly since the Islamists routed Fateh 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 Haniyeh’s convoy, the latest of more than two dozen people killed. The rivalry has been exacerbated by the international political and financial boycott of the Hamas administration, which has plunged the territories into unprecedented crisis. The West has demanded that Hamas recognise Israel, renounce violence and agree to abide by past peace deals to unblock the badly-needed funds, but it has steadfastly refused to do so.
“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,” Haniyeh declared.
Hamas’ refusal to recognise the Jewish state, even implicitly, has led to fruitless months-long talks between Haniyeh 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. Abbas brought back Ismail Jaber, an authoritative strongman under his late predecessor Yasser Arafat, to head security services in the territory, following a vow by Hamas to deploy its paramilitary force there.