- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 18, 2003

From combined dispatches
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip The Islamic militant group Hamas at a mass funeral yesterday vowed to mount "painful and thunderous attacks" in Israel to avenge the deaths of six operatives in what they believe was an Israeli bomb attack.
Another top Hamas figure died in a roadside ambush yesterday amid signs that Israel is taking its war against the militant group into its Gaza stronghold. Israelis also raided a Hamas stronghold overnight, fatally shooting two Palestinians and blowing up the house of a suspected bomb-maker.
The Israeli daily Ha'aretz said troops were poised for a major strike in Gaza, but will stop short of reoccupying the strip of more than 1 million Palestinians.
About 100,000 mourners, including hundreds of militants shooting in the air, thronged Gaza City in the memorial for the six. Hamas officials said they were killed when a remote-controlled glider they were working on blew up on Sunday.
Palestinian sources said the glider was actually a pilotless drone that Hamas had acquired with the goal of attacking an Israeli target. Hamas now believes it had been booby-trapped by Israeli agents and was detonated during a Hamas test flight.
An Israeli helicopter was in the area at the time and may have triggered the explosion, the sources said.
Israel officials declined to comment on the claim, but security officials said they had known for a year that Hamas wanted to acquire drones to collect intelligence and carry out attacks.
"It was a booby-trapped dummy. The Zionists managed to kill those heroes but they will never escape punishment. There will be more martyrdom operations inside the Zionist entity," senior Hamas leader Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi told mourners through a loudspeaker yesterday.
Mourners shouted "revenge, revenge" and masked Hamas gunmen looked grim as they carried the bodies of the six on stretchers around 2.5 miles to Gaza City's Martyrs Cemetery.
"We will not rest and our eyes will see no sleep before we avenge the deaths of our brothers," said one militant, clutching an M-16 assault rifle. Other Hamas men wept silently.
Even before Sunday's blast, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz had vowed "to strike hard at our enemy Hamas" in response to a deadly attack on an Israeli tank over the weekend.
The Hamas fugitive, Riyad Abu Zeid, 32, was seriously wounded when undercover troops, hiding in a van loaded with vegetables, fired on his black Honda traveling along Gaza's coastal road, witnesses said. Troops apprehended Abu Zeid, who died on the way to an Israeli hospital, the military said.
A Palestinian taxi driver, who gave only his first name, Mohammed, said there were two Palestinian men in the Honda, both taken away by the Israeli military. One man apparently was killed at the scene, the other injured, he said.
The identity of the second man was not immediately known.
The army described Abu Zeid, 32, as a senior member of Hamas' military wing who had organized attacks against Israeli targets in the Gaza Strip and suicide bombings inside Israel. He was planning additional attacks, the army said in a statement, without giving details.
In all, 14 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip during a 24-hour period from midday Sunday to midday yesterday.
Staff writer Abraham Rabinovich in Jerusalem contributed to this article.

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