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Palestinians in Gaza mourn Iran's Soleimani

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GAZA (Reuters) - Hundreds of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on Saturday mourned the death of Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander Qassem Soleimani, killed by a U.S. air strike in Iraq.

Leaders of the Islamist Hamas group, which rules Gaza, and of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad faction, both backed by Iran, joined mourners at a tent erected in Soleimani’s honour in the heart of Gaza City.

Flags of the United States and Israel were laid on the ground for visitors to tread on as they entered, passing posters of Soleimani. The flags were later set on fire.

“We are loyal to those who stood with the resistance and with Palestine and we hold the U.S administration and the Zionist occupation fully responsible for the consequences of this deplorable crime,” said Ismail Radwan, a Hamas official.

Soleimani, 62, was the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ foreign legions. As head of the Quds Force, he was the architect of Iran’s drive to spread its influence in the Middle East through proxy militias, some of them now operating on the doorstep of its arch-enemy Israel.

Israel, which defended the U.S. operation on Friday, has fought three wars with Hamas in the last decade, and in 2006 fought a brief war with the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia across the Lebanese border.

(This story corrects word in paragraph 3 to posters from murals)

Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Maayan Lubell and Kevin Liffey