GAZA CITY, April 16 (JMCC) - Shock and grief spread in Gaza on Friday with the news of the killing of Italian activist Vittorio Arrigoni.
Rallies were organized denouncing his murder and calling for the arrest of the perpetrators, believed to be linked to a Salafi group in Gaza. Hundreds of Gazans gathered at the Square of the Unknown Soldier, raising the Palestinian and Italian flags and condemning the crime.
Ebaa Riziq, a university student, said that she had lost one of her best friends.
Vittorio used to call himself as 'the Gazan,' she recalled, crying. He shared with us our food and our hard times during war and in rallies against occupation. I do not why the criminals killed him.
A mock coffin was held aloft at the rally, adorned with the photos of Vittorio and US activist Rachel Corrie, who was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer driver in the southern Gaza Strip in 2003.
Both were members of the International Solidarity Movement
, which sends activists to the occupied Palestinian territories to support Palestinians.
Kan O'Keefe, an activist from Ireland, said he will not leave Gaza and not stop supporting the group.
He went on to say that Arigoni's killers do not reflect true Palestinian sentiment. I do not exclude the possibility of an Israeli role in the issue, he said. The murderers are not Palestinian nor Muslim.
O'Keefe was active in organizing aid for Palestinian families during Israel's war in Gaza in 2008-09.
American professor Diane Shammas, an instructor at Al-Azhar University, said that she will not leave Gaza but she will move about with more care.
Shammas, participating in the rally, said that she had previously lived through such killings in places like Iraq and Lebanon. These killers are just gangs rather than political groups. It is very scary for me, she went on. Such tragedies oblige me to distance my self from others.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas joined other political groups in strongly denouncing what he called a crime.
Vittori Arrigoni was kidnapped and killed by a Islamist Salafist group in Gaza on Thursday night.
The group, in a video, threatened to kill Arrigoni unless Hamas officials released their leader, Hisham al-Sa'eedni, 50, and other members of the same group within 30 hours.
The video, published on the internet, showing Vittorio blindfolded and with his face bloodied.
But before the deadline had expired, Hamas Ministry of Interior announced that the police had found Arrigoni's dead body in a house in the northern Gaza Strip.
Journalist Karl Schembri, who lives in Gaza, said that he is shocked and angry.
The friend of Vittorio described his killing as a freak incident and said he was incredulous.
It is not Gaza's people, not Palestinians, not politicians. They are just a group of crazy people. They are barbarians who do not understand [who is] their friend or their enemy, Schembri said.
Hundreds of Palestinians gathered again Friday night in a vigil next to the Italian Corporation office in Gaza. They carried photos of Arrigoni and candles. Some gave short speeches against his killing, calling it a shameful crime.
Majed Abu Salama said that Vittorio used to visit his home on Fridays with other international activists.
He had become a Gazan guy. We used to call him the 'prince of freedom.' We hope this murder will not be used by Israeli propaganda against us or to damage our image in the world, said Abu Salama.
Khalil Abu Shamala, director of Addameer human rights association, warned, however that radical groups were becoming more powerful in Gaza. The danger threatens all of Palestinian society because the extremist groups are growing.
Abu Shamala said that he had seen Vittorio's body when it was discovered. He said the Italian had a piece of plastic around his neck that appeared to have been used to strangle him. His face was swollen and blue and it was obvious that he was beaten before being killed, he said.
Palestinian activists opened a mourning tent at the open air cafe, The Gallery, where Arrigoni had spent many hours writing articles and updating his blog.
Poet Khaled Jum'aa sat in the tent for hours in silence. He told JMCC.org only one word could express his feelings: I am ashamed.
Vittorio arrived in Gaza in 2008 on board one of two boats that came to break the Israeli siege on Gaza.
Israel has imposed a tight blockade on the Gaza Strip since Palestinian armed groups captured an Israeli soldier in June 2006, tightening the closure when Hamas took control over Gaza in June 2007.
Vittorio was most well-known among Palestinian fishermen, who he accompanied in their perilous trips to sea where they often come under attack by Israeli marines. Once he was even wounded by Israeli troops on one of these fishing trips.
He also accompanied Palestinian farmers who periodically come under fire in the buffer zone imposed by the Israeli army.
In December 2008, Israel launched a 22-day operation in the Gaza Strip, killing more than 1,400 Palestinians, most of them civilians. Arrigoni accompanied Palestinian ambulances during the operation, later writing about his experiences in a book, Gaza: Be Human.