NOTE: This is the only story on the event a search of Haaretx yielded. The two stories seem to agree on the raw facts of the story. Emphasis, however, is something else again.
Abbas calls Israel 'the Zionist enemy'
By News Agencies
Last Update: 04/01/2005 20:47
Leading Palestinian chairmanship candidate Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday called Israel the "Zionist enemy," a marked escalation in his campaign rhetoric.
Abbas spoke to thousands of supporters after seven Palestinians were killed by an Israeli tank shell earlier in the day in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahia.
"We came to you today, while we are praying for the souls of the martyrs who were killed today by the shells of the Zionist enemy in Beit Lahiya
," Abbas said during a campaign stop in the town of Khan Yunis in southern Gaza.
Senior Israeli officials expressed sharp disappointment with Abbas' comments.
Abbas, the front-runner in Sunday's election for Palestinian Authority chairman, is considered a moderate and has the tacit support of Israel and the United States. Abbas has criticized the armed Palestinian uprising and called for an end to violence.
However, in recent days Abbas has been campaigning in Palestinian areas that have been the hardest hit by four years of fighting, and has courted militants.
Held aloft by gunmen during campaign rallies, Abbas has indicated he prefers to co-opt the armed men, rather than crack down as Israel demands. In a campaign speech Monday, he vowed never to take up arms against militant groups. It was the latest in a series of stump speeches in which Abbas, who in the past has criticized the use of bombs and rifles against Israelis, hailed militants as heroes of the intifada.
Olmert: Abbas' comments are 'intolerable'
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's deputy described as "intolerable" on Tuesday Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' description of Israel as "the Zionist enemy" after an Israeli tank killed seven Palestinian youths in Gaza.
"Without a doubt, what Abu Mazen said was intolerable and unacceptable, and it cannot serve as a basis for any future cooperation," said Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, using Abbas' nom de guerre.
Noting that Abbas made the remarks while campaigning, Olmert told Israel Radio: "After January 9, we will relate to such comments and judge them differently than we do now."
FM Shalom says disappointed with Abbas' statements
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom expressed on Tuesday his disappointed with Abbas' latest statements, which he branded as "the kind that hasn't been heard in a long time."
Shalom's statement, made during a press conference following a meeting with his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, breaks Israel's refrain from criticizing Abbas in public since the death of Yasser Arafat in November 2004.
"We cannot accept the argument that Abbas' statements stem from campaigning motives," Shalom said.
Israel has demanded that Abbas, if elected, curb and disarm militants. Reining in armed groups is also a key element of the U.S.-backed road map.
Israel expects Abbas to stamp out the firing of Qassam rockets into Israeli territory, Shalom said.
"If Abu Mazen meant that the firing out of the Gaza Strip harms the Palestinians, Israel expects him to translate his words into actions," he said.
Abbas said Monday he was determined to ensure the rule of law prevailed in the Palestinian territories, a message to militant groups that attack Israeli targets. But he said he would achieve that goal through "dialogue and discussion" as he pursued national unity.
"Palestinians taking up arms against each other will not happen," Abbas pledged.
"They are freedom fighters ... and should live a dignified and safe life," said Abbas, whose call for an end to violence has been rejected by militants whose support he is courting in the election.
Palestinians killed in Israeli shelling
By Khalid Amayreh in the West Bank
Tuesday 04 January 2005, 23:21 Makka Time, 20:21 GMT
Israeli occupation forces have killed at least seven Palestinians, six of them children, after tanks fired artillery shells on a northern Gaza family farm where crops were being harvested.
Medical sources at the Kamal Adwan hospital in Bait Lahiya in northern Gaza told Aljazeera.net that the six child victims of Tuesday's shelling were from one family.
The Israeli army commander in north Gaza has expressed regret "if civilians were indeed hurt".
Aljazeera's correspondent in Gaza City, Wael al-Dahduh, reported that an eighth Palestinian has been killed and another two have been wounded after being shot by Israeli forces stationed east of al-Zaytun neighbourhood in southeast Gaza.
Witnesses reported an exchange of fire in the area between resistance fighters and Israel soldiers.
From New York, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he was gravely concerned about Tuesday's Israeli military operations in the northern Gaza Strip. "He is particularly disturbed that at least five of the victims were under the age of 18," Annan's spokesman said, adding that the Israeli assault followed a "marked increase" in rocket attacks by Palestinian fighters.
For his part, front-runner in the race for Palestinian president and chairman of the PLO executive committee, Mahmud Abbas, for the first time called Israel "the Zionist enemy" after word of the Bait Lahiya killings reached his ears. This in turn brought the following rejoinder from Israel's vice premier, Ehud Olmert: "Without a doubt, what Abu Mazin said was intolerable and unacceptable, and it cannot serve as a basis for any future cooperation."
Referring to the seven killed in the Bait Lahiya farm, Aljazeera's al-Dahduh said they have all been identified. Three were brothers who belonged to the Ghaban family.
The other victims were a nephew and two relatives of the Ghaban family besides a member of the Kasih family.
"The bodies of the boys were mutilated beyond recognition," Dr Muhammad Sultan, spokesman of the hospital's emergency department, told Aljazeera.net.
Sultan identified the Ghaban brothers as Ragih Ghassan, 11, Muhammad Kamal, 13, and Haidar Abd Allah, also 13.
All of them were buried at the martyrs' cemetery in Bait Lahiya. Thousands of people joined the funeral march later on Tuesday.
Those injured in the shelling were local residents who are currently receiving treatment at Dar al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City.
The Israeli claim that the dead and wounded were youths who were armed or were involved in firing mortar shells and homemade rockets at Israeli settlements, has been demolished by the facts on the ground.
The Israeli army initially said it had fired at a group of Palestinians who were seen firing rockets, but the targeted area was an agricultural farm that was visible from the Israeli military posts guarding Jewish settlements.Palestinian witnesses said Israeli tanks fired into Bait Lahiya shortly after mortars crashed into the nearby Jewish Nissanit settlement, wounding two people.
Israeli settlements built on occupied Palestinian lands are deemed illegal under international law.
Word of the Bait Lahiya shelling angered Palestinian presidential contender Abbas as he continued campaigning in Gaza despite further fighting in the small coastal strip between Israeli forces and resistance fighters.
"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 Yunus, a resistance stronghold.
Abbas later tried to visit the wounded in a Bait Lahiya hospital but drove away without getting out of his car because of tank bursts nearby after a rocket volley by resistance fighters into Israel, which caused no casualties.
"This will not bring peace for anyone. If such aggression
continues we will not be able to engage in a peace process," Abbas said, referring to the killing of the youths.
"But I also condemn all pointless (mortar and rocket) actions happening here and there," he said. "These actions are wrong and I will not apologise for (saying) that."
Palestinian officials said Israeli military operations in Gaza threatened to disrupt the election. Israel says it is trying to stop intensifying mortar and rocket fire by fighters who have spurned Abbas's call for restraint.