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Mahmoud Abbas, generally considered the front-runner for the Jan. 9 presidential election, paid tribute Friday to Palestinians killed fighting Israel as gunmen fired in the air during a large anniversary rally of the ruling Fatah movement.

Abbas' speech marked the second time in two days that Abbas indirectly courted armed groups, even though he has spoken out against violence and has criticized attacks against Israel as a mistake.

His appearances, including an encounter with a prominent West Bank gunman Thursday, prompted questions about whether he is playing campaign politics or identifying with violent groups.

Abbas spoke hours after two Palestinians were killed in an Israeli missile strike in Gaza's Khan Younis refugee camp.

The army said troops shot three Palestinians on Friday night after they were noticed crawling toward soldiers in the southern Gaza Strip, carrying what appeared to be an explosive charge. The military did not know whether the men were dead or wounded.

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