Thursday, January 06, 2005
Remember the lovely "moderate" Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas that was going to bring about a time of peace now that Arafat is gone?
Palestinian Leader Assails 'Zionist Enemy'
By Nidal al-Mughrabi
BEIT LAHIYA, Gaza Strip (Reuters) - Moderate Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas called Israel "the Zionist enemy" for the first time on Tuesday after an Israeli tank killed seven Palestinian youths in a Gaza strawberry field.
The words were certain to stir concerns in Israel where images of Abbas embracing fighters during the campaign for a Jan. 9 election have led some to question hopes for reviving peace talks after Yasser Arafat's death.
The Israeli army said it had targeted militants who had crept into the strawberry field and fired mortar bombs into a nearby Jewish settlement in the occupied territory.
Palestinian witnesses and medics in Beit Lahiya, a north Gaza village, said the militants had vanished by the time the tank shell crashed and all the dead were youths aged 11-17 from two farming families. Four people were critically wounded.
The field, where farmers had been harvesting strawberries, was spattered with blood and body parts.
Word of the incident clearly angered Abbas, widely tipped to win the presidential election, as he continued campaigning in the Gaza Strip despite further fighting between militants and the Israeli army.
"We are praying for the souls of our martyrs who fell today to the shells of the Zionist enemy," Abbas told a rally in the south Gaza refugee camp of Khan Younis, a hotbed of militants.
It was Abbas's first known resort to the language of radicals sworn to Israel's destruction. Abbas, 69, long known as a relative moderate, has raised peace hopes since Arafat's death by condemning militant violence in favor of talks with Israel.
Violence has abated in the West Bank but intensified in Gaza and Palestinian officials said a fresh series of Israeli army incursions threatened to disrupt the election for a successor to Arafat that is critical to chances of reviving peacemaking.
"These attacks are seriously harming the election process," cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said as Abbas stumped in Khan Younis, where nine Palestinians were killed in an armored Israeli sweep at the weekend.
Israel says it is responding to intensifying mortar and rocket fire by roving bands of militants who have spurned Abbas's call for restraint to help him revive negotiations in pursuit of a Palestinian state in Israeli-occupied land.
Love those moderates....