Gaza tensions rise after airstrike

Not since July 2002 has the Israeli army killed so many Gaza Strip Palestinians in a single day.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Tuesday morning Mohammed Tabaza kneeled and pressed his forehead into the grimy, brick-paved street in front of a mosque in the Gaza Strip, praying for his dead son.

Then he and hundreds of other men stood and listened to a speaker from Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement. "Allah created us on this Earth and on it we will die," the speaker said. He added that the military wing of Hamas had already begun to take retribution for the Israeli airstrike here Monday night that killed Mr. Tabaza's son Abdel Hamid and at least six other Palestinians.

"Our ultimate goal is jihad," the speaker concluded, using a word that means holy struggle - "and to die as a martyr."

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So turns the wheel of attack and counterattack in the Gaza Strip, a territory of 1.3 million Palestinians hemmed in by Israeli-built fences and free-fire zones. On Monday Israeli forces attacked targets in Gaza five times, killing at least two Palestinian fighters and at least eight civilians and twice striking a building allegedly used to store and manufacture weapons. Not since July 2002 has Israel killed so many Palestinians in Gaza in a single day.

A statement by the Israel Defense Forces said the strikes were part of its "activity against the terror infrastructure"; the attacks came on the heels of the firing of homemade Qassam rockets into Israeli border towns. They also follow an ongoing Israeli operation along the Gaza Strip's border with Egypt that has killed at least 8 Palestinians since Oct. 10 and a Palestinian ambush on Oct. 19 that killed three Israeli soldiers.

Monday's civilian death toll seems guaranteed to perpetuate violence. As mourners bearing the body of Abdel Hamid began their march toward the mosque, they punctuated their chants - "with our blood we will sacrifice for the martyr" - by firing Kalashnikov assault rifles into the air.

Early Tuesday morning the main street of the Nusseirat camp, which is home to some 66,000 people who live in densely populated three- and four-story apartment blocks, was lined with mourning tents.

Mohammed Tabaza was standing on a side street outside his building, watching as three hooded men from Hamas spray-painted an appreciation of Abdel Hamid's sacrifice on a wall of the dusty lane. Mr. Tabaza himself said he had no connection with Hamas.

His face creased with age and his eyes red with grief, Tabaza explained that four of his five sons were out of the family's second-story apartment Monday night when an Israeli missile exploded near a silver Peugeot as it moved along Nusseirat's main street.

Palestinians typically rush toward the scene of such blasts, mainly to help those under attack escape their vehicle, and that is what Abdel Hamid Tabaza and his brothers did Monday. And that is when a second Israeli missile hit the car.

Accounts vary as to whether three or four men were in the sedan, which media reports said Israel acknowledged targeting.

According to witnesses and hospital officials, at least seven bystanders were killed and scores were injured. At Shifa Hospital, the territory's main medical facility, a Palestinian policeman named Said al-Jubein and his sister Fatima al-Nadi watched over their nephew Mohammed al-Jubein.

The young man, also a policeman, lay glassy-eyed on a gurney, his chest streaked with blood from shrapnel wounds, his legs wrapped in a blanket.

Ms. Nadi fingered a roll of medical tape and insisted that her nephew had merely been "sitting in front of his house.... They were doing nothing." She said he would probably survive.

Mohammed's uncle Said explained that he had stepped inside the house to fetch coffee when the missile hit. In the emergency room he seem to veer between shock at his own good fortune and anger at the situation. "If I had a nuclear bomb I would explode it on Israel and America," he vowed.

On Monday Israel also twice struck a house in Gaza City that it said had been used for weapons storage and production. No one was killed in these attacks, but media reports said several people were injured, including children.

A fourth attack struck another Gaza City house, with no casualties, and the fifth - like the Nusseirat strike - was what Israel calls a "targeted killing." In this case two militants and a civilian were killed, and several civilians were injured.

For the Tabaza family, Abdel Hamid was not the only casualty. Pieces of shrapnel struck another son, 14-year-old Mahmoud, all over his body; he remains in intensive care. Two other sons, 20-year-old Tariq and 9-year-old Mustafa, were also struck by shrapnel, but they were treated and released. An 18-year-old cousin, Ibrahim, is in critical condition from a shrapnel wound to the head.

Mohammed Tabaza was also contemplating the loss of his livelihood. A construction worker, he said he had worked on projects all over Israel, and as recently as a month ago.

But Israel routinely bars workers who have lost a family member to the conflict because they represent a security risk.

"I don't know if I'm going back" to work in Israel, Tabaza said. "Maybe [the Israelis] will stop me because of my son."

Mustafa, the youngest, stayed close to his father Tuesday. He lifted up his blue jacket to display a bandage on his right hip where he was grazed by a fragment from the explosion.

He turned shy when he was asked what he wanted to be when he grows up. He squirmed a bit and blinked his pale brown eyes. Finally he answered: "To join Hamas." The reason should have been obvious: "To get revenge for my brother."

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