Army of Islam gunmen march in funeral

(Yahoo news) Hundreds of gunmen from the shadowy Army of Islam marched in a funeral for five Gaza militants Thursday, firing in the air in their first public appearance in such large numbers.

The five Army of Islam members buried Thursday were among a total of 12 Palestinians killed in Israeli strikes over two days. The Israeli military said it has targeted militants involved in rocket fire on Israeli border towns.

A statement from the group posted on Islamic Web sites on Thursday said a sixth member wounded in Wednesday's strike against its men had since died of his injuries, but did not say when.

The Army of Islam, an offshot of Gaza's ruling Hamas group, has been linked to the March kidnapping of BBC journalist Alan Johnston, since released, and the June 2006 capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit . Individual members have made public statements, but the size of the group was never apparent.

However, some 300 Army of Islam gunmen marched in Thursday's funeral procession. Sporting long beards and black headbands, many wore dark robes, a style of dress more common in Afghanistan or Pakistan than in Gaza. Gunmen, some wearing masks, fired Kalashnikov and M-16 assault rifles in the air.

The relationship between the Army of Islam and Hamas is murky. The Army of Islam is considered more extreme in its Islamic ideology than Hamas , which seized control of Gaza in June.

The Israeli army said it had targeted the Army of Islam members because their jeep was carrying homemade rockets ready for use. Thirteen rockets and dozens of mortar shells have hit Israel since Wednesday, despite warnings by Defense Minister Ehud Barak that he is moving closer to ordering a large-scale military offensive in Gaza. The rockets caused no injuries.

The Israeli military said ground forces fired at a Palestinian rocket-launching squad in the northern Gaza Strip Thursday, after rockets were launched at Israel. Palestinian security officials said a militant of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine was killed by the Israeli fire. They said he was not participating in the rocket fire but was moving, armed, near a launch site when he was hit.

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