Blast kills 15 Palestinians at Hamas rally in Gaza

Date: 09-23-05

GAZA (Reuters) - An explosion at a militant Hamas rally killed at least 15 Palestinians, including children and gunmen, in the Gaza Strip on Friday in the first deadly incident in the territory since Israel completed its withdrawal.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah group and the Palestinian interior ministry said Hamas was responsible.

"The Fatah Central Committee holds the Hamas movement fully responsible for the victims of the military parade (that was held) among civilians," Fatah's Central Committee said in a statement.

Hamas said the explosion was the result of an Israeli airstrike, while Israel denied all involvement.

The explosion in the densely packed Jabalya refugee camp, which killed 15 people, including at least two children and three militants, occurred after Islamic Jihad militants fired rockets into Israel in retaliation for a deadly West Bank raid.

Senior Hamas leader Nizar Rayan, whose brother, a local commander for the group, died in the blast, said Israeli drones or helicopters targeted a vehicle carrying five Hamas gunmen.

He said that while Hamas would continue to honour an eight-month cease-fire it had agreed to in February by request of Abbas, it would still respond to Israeli attacks against Palestinians.

Fatah's Central Committee slammed Hamas for displaying munitions at the rally, which marked a show of armed force by the group following Israel's Gaza pullout on September 12 after 38 years of occupation, among thousands of civilians.

"The Fatah Central Committee calls upon all groups to stop these military parades and to put all weapons and explosives away from residential neighbourhoods," the group said.


Medics said more than 60 people were wounded in the blast, which wrecked the Hamas vehicle. But Rayan denied reports that it had carried explosives, saying the vehicle only contained plastic models of rockets that could not detonate.

Palestinian militants from the armed Popular Resistance Committees group later fired several rockets into Israel in response to the rally blast, calling on gunmen "to mount a fast earth-quake like and painful reaction to the ugly massacre".

Prior to the explosion, militants from Islamic Jihad mounted the first rocket attack against Israel since the withdrawal, in response to an Israeli raid in the West Bank that killed three of its gunmen. It caused no casualties.

The Israeli army confirmed one rocket landed in a southern Israeli town, causing no casualties. Such attacks have decreased since militant groups agreed to the truce.

Palestinians are still celebrating Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, which Washington hopes could be a step to reviving a stalled peace "road map".

Palestinian authorities took charge on Friday of a border crossing for the first time, processing thousands of travellers from Gaza into Egypt following Israel's pullout.

Israel had sealed the Rafah terminal, Gaza's sole conduit to the outside world via Egypt, before completing its removal of forces, saying it would be shut for six months pending renovations and proof Palestinians could rein in Gaza militants.

But with Israel's consent, the crossing was opened on Friday for 48 hours to Palestinians who study, work or need medical treatment in Egypt or elsewhere.

Palestinians hope Gaza will become the embryo of a state in the territories Israel captured in the 1967 war. They want their state to include the larger West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem.

(Writing by Corinne Heller in Jerusalem, additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah)



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