Palestinians Vengeful After Funeral
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) _ Shaking their fists in rage, thousands of mourners marched in a funeral procession Thursday for a top Hamas bombmaker hailed by Palestinians as a martyr and condemned by Israel as a terrorist.
Hamas militants rejected Israel’s denial of responsibility for the death of Mohiyedine Sharif, and vowed to avenge him with attacks bloodier than the string of suicide bombings that followed another bombmaker’s assassination two years ago.
Israel ``paid with 60 coffins″ then, ``and we are telling them now to prepare for more,″ a Hamas leaflet warned Thursday.
Israeli troops went on heightened alert, with thousands of officers manning West Bank roadblocks and patrolling markets, bus stations and shopping malls. In Jerusalem, officers were posted on rooftops with binoculars and stopped Palestinians to check their identity cards.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking Thursday night in Herzliya, warned Palestinians against blaming Israel for Sharif’s death, and said Israel would hold the Palestinian Authority responsible if there was an attack as a result of its inflaming the public.
``They know the truth and they know very well that we were not involved in this,″ he said.
Israel said Sharif, 32, who topped Israel’s most-wanted list, died when a car bomb exploded prematurely Sunday night in a Hamas bomb factory in Palestinian-controlled Ramallah.
Palestinian police said Sharif had been shot and killed before the explosion, and the explosion was intended to cover up the slaying. The police and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat did not directly blame Israel, but other Palestinian officials did.
Marwan Barghouti, a leader of Arafat’s Fatah faction of the PLO, said it was ``obvious″ that Israel had assassinated Sharif.
Barghouti suggested Netanyahu might have planned the slaying to trigger a violent response by Hamas and sabotage the peace process.
``It is not far-fetched for Netanyahu to use this in order to have an excuse not to implement the (Israel-Palestinian) agreements,″ he said.
Netanyahu and other Israeli officials have categorically denied any Israeli role in Sharif’s death. In past assassinations believed carried out by Israel, the government usually refused to confirm or deny its involvement.
At least 6,000 people, many carrying green Islamic flags, joined the funeral procession for Sharif as it snaked through Ramallah on Thursday. Sharif’s body, wrapped in a white-and-green blanket, was carried on a stretcher. His blackened face and upper body were exposed, much of the skin peeled away.
``We want to hear explosions in Tel Aviv. Blow them up! blow them up!″ chanted a group of women, slapping their faces in grief. Young men, some crying and others shaking their fists, shouted ``Revenge, revenge!″
After the burial, hundreds of mourners ran toward a nearby Jewish settlement and threw stones at Israeli soldiers, who responded with tear gas and rubber-coated metal bullets.
Ten Palestinians were injured by rubber bullets, and 10 others were treated for tear-gas inhalation.
At one point, the confrontation nearly deteriorated into more serious violence, reflecting the volatile situation after more than a year of deadlocked peace talks. Israeli soldiers approached the edge of Palestinian-controlled territory, where Palestinian police were pushing back protesters. Firing into the air, the Palestinian police ordered the Israelis back _ and the soldiers obeyed, witnesses said.
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas graffiti warned Netanyahu to ``start preparing black bags, because we are going to fill them with Jewish bodies.″
``Mohiyedine did not die,″ another message said. ``His students will follow in his path and blow up Jewish society.″
Hamas, which has carried out more than a dozen suicide bombings in Israel since 1994, urged the Palestinian Authority to break off its peace negotiations with Israel.
Palestinian security officials met with Hamas leaders in Gaza on Thursday and promised to turn over the results of their investigation into Sharif’s death, Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi told The Associated Press.
Israel’s police bomb squad chief, Menachem Bosma, who examined the explosion site earlier this week, disputed the Palestinian police findings.
Bosma told Israel radio the main explosion in the garage triggered a smaller blast in the car, and there was no sign the blasts were set off by remote control, he said.
In response to claims that Sharif was shot, Bosma said large amounts of ammunition were found in the garage and the heat of the explosion would have set off the gunpowder in the cartridges.
Israel blames Sharif for masterminding July and September suicide bombings in Jerusalem that killed 26 people.