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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tens of Thousands Grieve Gaza Deaths

BEIT HANOUN, Gaza Strip -- Tens of thousands of Palestinians joined mass funeral processions in Gaza on Thursday, as the bodies of 18 civilians killed by Israeli shelling were buried to the accompaniment of gunfire and vows of revenge.

Groups of militants, some masked and firing their weapons in the air, flanked the processions snaking through the streets of Beit Hanoun, where Wednesday's attack took place, before the dead were laid to rest in a new cemetery.

The bodies, including those of seven children and four women, were each wrapped in a yellow flag, the symbol of the Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and born aloft on stretchers among a vast chanting crowd of mourners.

Cries of "Allahu Akbar," or God is greatest, filled the air as the victims were buried, and more gunfire sounded before a Fatah official, addressing the crowds through a loudspeaker, shook his fist and pledged vengeance on Israel.

"The killers in Israel, you will never be able to defeat one Palestinian child," Fatah member Abdul Hakim Awad said.

"We say, an eye for an eye and a soul for a soul. There will be no security in Ashkelon, no security in Tel Aviv or Haifa, until our people in Beit Hanoun are secured."

Palestinian leaders have called Wednesday's attack a massacre, and some Hamas lawmakers in Gaza have threatened to resume suicide attacks against Israel as a result.

It was the deadliest strike by Israel against Palestinian civilians in at least six years. Palestinian researchers said it might have been the largest civilian death toll since a Jewish gunman shot dead 29 Palestinians in a mosque in Hebron in 1994.

Israeli leaders have expressed remorse for the incident, which they said was probably the result of rounds overshooting their target. The army said it was targeting rocket launchers.

"Wednesday was a day of tragedy beyond imagination and Thursday is a sad day, a black day," said Abu Mohammed, a spokesman for the Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, an armed faction allied with Fatah.

"[It is] a stigma on the head of the enemy and the occupation," he said, adding that it would inspire militants to fight Israel, which quit Gaza last year after 38 years of occupation.

The Beit Hanoun killings rallied Palestinians after months of factional infighting between Fatah and Hamas, an Islamist group. A wave of censure in Europe and the Middle East brought new scrutiny on Israel's fighting tactics in the territory.

Israel's defense minister ordered a halt to artillery fire in Gaza and for an investigation to be completed by Thursday.

But Damascus-based Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Hamas, which runs the Palestinian government, urged retaliation.

Hamas declared a partial truce in March 2005 that expired at the end of the year. It has not carried out suicide bombings in Israel since 2004, although some leaders said they could be resumed.