Palestinians put their political difference aside on Wednesday to join forces in strongly condemning the killing of 19 people, among them seven children, in Beit Hanun, with some calling for a new wave of violence against Israel and others demanding international protection. For a Jerusalem Online video of events click here Some Fatah leaders joined their Hamas counterparts by urging Palestinians to target Israeli citizens inside Israel. "All the organizations must retaliate for what happened in Beit Hanun," said Jamal Obaid, a senior member of Fatah's Aksa Martyrs Brigades. "It's blood for blood and we must avenge the blood of our martyrs."
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Several Palestinian leaders and spokesmen described the tragedy, in which 19 people were killed, as a "well-planned massacre" against innocent civilians. The Palestinians later declared a three-day general strike in mourning. In Gaza City, Palestinians hurled stones at the offices of the European Union headquarters, but no one was hurt.
Sources in the Gaza Strip said 11 of the victims belonged to the Athamnah family and that the children's ages ranged between 12 months and 15 years. The building that was targeted belongs to brothers Saed and Sa'di Athamnah.
The Beit Hanun incident could disrupt efforts by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to convince Hamas to make political concessions to pave the way for the formation of a unity government. However, some Palestinians predicted that the incident would bring Hamas and Fatah closer than ever to an agreement.
Earlier this week, sources close to both Hamas and Fatah disclosed that the two sides were on the verge of signing a unity government deal with the hope that such a move would persuade the international community to resume financial aid to the PA.
Abbas, who is in Gaza City for the unity talks, denounced the Beit Hanun killings as "despicable and barbaric." On Wednesday evening, Abbas held a surprise meeting with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to discuss the current situation in the Gaza Strip and the possibility of resuming the unity talks.
Speaking to reporters shortly after the incident, Abbas said: "We want to tell the world that Israel does not want peace and stability. The Israelis apparently feel comfortable with the claim that there is no partner on the Palestinian side for negotiations. That's why they are doing these things fearlessly. They feel there is no one there to stop them."
Abbas declared Beit Hanun a "martyr" and vowed to provide $1 million in urgent aid to assist the victims' families and other residents.
Calling on the UN Security Council to hold an emergency meeting to discuss Israel's "aggression," Abbas said he phoned a number of Arab and Western heads of state on Wednesday to urge them to exert pressure on Israel to halt its military offensive in the Gaza Strip. He claimed that the timing of the attack was designed thwart efforts to establish a national unity government.
But Abbas managed to anger Hamas by condemning as "fruitless acts" the firing of Kassam rockets at Israeli towns and cities. "These rockets don't bring us any results," he stressed. "They only provide Israel with an excuse to pursue its aggression on our people. The rocket attacks must stop instantly."
In response, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum called upon Abbas to apologize for condemning the rocket attacks. "He must apologize to the women and children of Beit Hanun," he said. "The Israeli occupation does not distinguish between an area from which rockets are fired and another area where nothing is happening. Look what happened this morning in the village of Yamoun, near Jenin, where Israel killed five members of the Aksa Martyrs Brigades."
Haniyeh, commenting on the Beit Hanun tragedy, said the killings were "further proof that the Zionist mentality is based on the destruction and killing of all Palestinians." He also claimed that the killings were intended to bring the Palestinians to their knees and extract political concessions from them. But, he added, "The Palestinians will never give up their rights, including the right to continue the resistance operations against Israel."
He too called for an emergency meeting of the Security Council to discuss the latest developments in the Gaza Strip and to consider the possibility of setting up an international commission of inquiry to investigate Israel's "war crimes."
Nizar Rayan, a prominent Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, called for resuming suicide bombings inside Israel to avenge the Beit Hanun killings. He also called for kidnapping soldiers to trade them for Palestinian prisoners.
Hamas government spokesman Ghazi Hamad, who has often expressed relatively moderate and pragmatic views and is a frequent interviewee in the Israeli media, went as far as calling for the elimination of Israel. "Israel is a bloody state that was established on blood and it never finds comfort unless there's bloodshed," he said. "Israel should therefore be wiped off the map."