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Tuesday April 19, 2011 12:51 PM (EST+7)

GAZA, April 18 (Nidal al-Mughrabi/Reuters) - Hundreds of Palestinians marched in a symbolic funeral procession on Monday in memory of a pro-Palestinian Italian activist killed by al Qaeda sympathizers in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Vittorio, Vittorio, the crowd chanted as Vittorio Arrogoni's body, in a wooden coffin wrapped in a Palestinian flag, was carried by policemen from a morgue to an ambulance for transfer to neighboring Egypt and then on to Italy.

Arrigoni, 36, was found strangled in an abandoned house on Friday. A jihadist Salafist group aligned with al Qaeda had abducted Arrigoni and threatened on Thursday to execute him unless their leader, detained by Hamas last month, was freed.

Arrigoni had lived in Gaza since arriving in 2008 aboard a humanitarian aid boat that Israel had admitted despite imposing a blockade on the territory.

The Hamas-run Interior Ministry in the Gaza Strip posted pictures on its website of three suspects sought in the killing. Two other suspects are already in custody.

The killing was an unprecedented challenge for Hamas, whose diehard hostility to Israel has deepened the isolation and poverty of Gaza, home to 1.5 million Palestinians.

We have lots of information and I believe that we are not far from reaching the killers in the nearest time possible ... We have all information, said Ghazi Hamad, a Hamas government official.

Hamas vehemently opposes Salafists who espouse a more extreme form of Islam and appear to be attracting recruits, including from among its own ranks.

(Editing by Jon Hemming)






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