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Stray Israeli bullet kills Palestinian girl, 11, in Gaza

Hamas extends fund-raising drive

GAZA CITY, Gaza strip -- A stray bullet killed an 11-year old Palestinian girl in her kitchen yesterday when Israeli troops fired on her neighborhood in the southern Gaza Strip, relatives and hospital officials said.

The girl, Iman Tulbeh, was shot in the head as soldiers fired toward the al-Amal neighborhood in the town of Khan Younis, the witnesses said.

The Israeli military said militants had fired a rocket from the area and that troops returned fire. The army said it was investigating the incident.

Family members present at the time said Iman was helping her mother in the kitchen when a bullet entered through an open window and struck the girl. Iman died shortly thereafter.

Also in southern Gaza, Palestinians fired an antitank rocket at the settlement of Neve Dekalim, the military said. The rocket hit the settlement fence, and no injuries were reported.

In Gaza City, the militant Islamic group Hamas extended a fund-raising drive late into the night Friday after thousands of Palestinians were still lined up to donate as the campaign ended.

Hamas announced in mosques Friday that it needs money to fight Israel. The group is trying to strengthen itself ahead of an expected Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Hamas officials yesterday refused to say how much money they had collected, but there were reports of individual donations of up to $50,000. Thousands of people lined up to donate small sums of cash, jewelry, and even hand grenades.

Hamas fund-raising abroad has been seriously hampered in recent months, as Israel and the United States have tried to stop the transfer of funds.

The group is also in the midst of talks with the Palestinian Authority over who will control Gaza after an Israeli withdrawal. The collection drive was seen as a show of strength by the increasingly popular opposition group.

Hamas is pledged to Israel's destruction and has killed more than 300 Israelis in suicide attacks in more than 3 1/2 years of fighting.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel has said he is determined to proceed with a pullback from Gaza and withdraw from four small West Bank settlements, but only after winning the approval of his Likud Party.

The party vote is to take place by late April, two weeks after Sharon returns from Washington, where he is to try to gather support for his plan from President Bush. Initially, the referendum was expected in mid-May.

Political sources said Sharon decided to speed up the timetable to leverage the momentum from his Washington trip and make it harder for the opposition within Likud to organize.

Sharon has said he will honor the outcome of the referendum. A recent poll showed a slim majority of Likud members supporting his proposal.

Opponents complained that the vote was being rushed.

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