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Hamas Vows to Avenge Death of Military Chief - 2002-07-24

The Islamic militant group, Hamas, is vowing to avenge the death of its military chief and the 14 other Palestinians killed by an Israeli air strike in Gaza City.

A Hamas statement says "anyone who dreams of so-called peace is mistaken. There is nothing called peace with Israel." Senior Hamas official Abdel Aziz Rantissi says retaliation will come soon, adding there will not be a single attack. He says Hamas will even target Israelis in their homes.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians took to the streets of Gaza, Tuesday, in a funeral procession for Hamas military chief Salah Shehade and 14 other Palestinians, including nine children, killed in the Israeli attack. Hundreds fired gunshots into the air as the crowd chanted anti-Israeli slogans.

The late-night attack on the Shehade house flattened it and destroyed several nearby buildings in a crowded Gaza City neighborhood. Mr. Shehade's wife and three children were among those killed. More than 150 Palestinians were wounded.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon calls the attack one of the Jewish state's "biggest successes," although he expresses regret for the loss of innocent lives. Israeli Radio quotes Mr. Sharon as saying a different method would have been found to carry out the attack, if it had been known that civilians were with Mr. Shehade.

Israeli officials say Mr. Shehade was behind hundreds of attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians, over the past two years.

The Israeli attack drew widespread international condemnation. In Washington, President Bush's spokesman criticized the attack as a heavy-handed action that does not contribute to peace.

Officials from Europe, the Arab world and the United Nations also condemned the Israeli action.