Jihad flags fly from synagogue

2005-09-12 10:41

Neve Dekalim, Gaza Strip - Flags of the Islamic militant factions Hamas and Islamic Jihad were fluttering on Monday from a ransacked synagogue in the former Jewish settlement of Neve Dekalim in the Gaza Strip.

The green flag of the militant Hamas group hung from the roof of the synagogue and the black flag of Islamic Jihad was raised from a wall in the compound after Israel completed its historic pullout.

The two factions, which oppose Israel's existence and pioneered the use of suicide bombs in the Palestinian uprising, seized the opportunity to raise the flags on the temple in the largest Gaza settlement.

A Nazi swastika was spray-painted on the wall, along with graffiti from the ruling Fatah faction's armed offshoot the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade declaring: "With God's victory, the occupation leaves our land."

Citing religious reasons, Israel chose not to demolish its synagogues in the Gaza Strip and instead left the structures for the Palestinian Authority to deal with despite its protests.

Palestinians visiting the Neve Dekalim synagogue, a scene of fierce Jewish resistance during the pullout of settlers last month, voiced glee over its destruction.

"This day is another Eid for Arabs," said Umm Alla, 30, referring to the holiday marking the end of Islam's fasting month of Ramadan.

Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz warned on Monday that Israel would adopt a "zero tolerance" policy to continued violence from the Gaza Strip after ending its 38-year occupation of the Palestinian territory.

"If terrorist organisations launch any kind of attacks against Israeli civilians from the Gaza Strip, we will react," Mofaz told a news conference.

"From now on, it's zero tolerance to terrorism and the army is prepared to act in every possible way.

"The Palestinians understand perfectly that our policy has changed," said Mofaz, who refused to specify the nature or intensity of future Israeli reprisals should militants fire mortars or rockets into Israel from Gaza.

One makeshift rocket launched from Gaza exploded in the southern Israeli town of Sderot earlier on Monday during the army's historic pullout from the territory, causing no casualties or damage.

"We will react and talk afterwards," said the hawkish defence minister when asked for Israel's response to the firing.

Commander of Israel's historic pullout from the Gaza Strip, General Dan Harel, branded the rocket blast a violation of security promises made by the Palestinians ahead of the withdrawal.

"We are not going to investigate which terrorist organisation was responsible for this, the responsibility lies with the Palestinian Authority," Harel told public radio.