Israel kills 18 civilians in Gaza shelling

Israeli shelling killed 18 civilians, including women and children

November 08, 2006, 18:30
Original article

Israeli artillery shells killed 18 Palestinian civilians in northern Gaza earlier today, local officials and witnesses said, prompting swift vows of retaliation from Hamas and Islamic Jihad. It was the deadliest single Israeli attack on Palestinians in four years.

“We saw legs, we saw heads, we saw hands scattered in the street,” said Attaf Hamad (22) in Beit Hanoun, a town in the northern Gaza Strip that has been a launching ground for Palestinian militants’ rocket attacks on Israel.

The strike was condemned across Europe and the Middle East. But an initial response by the US stopped short of reprimanding Israel, where Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, is due to meet George W Bush, the US president, in Washington on Monday.

The European Union said it was “appalled by the continuing killing of civilians” in Gaza and urged Israel and the Palestinians to show restraint. The Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the world’s largest Islamic body, accused Israel of war crimes.

Amir Peretz, the Israeli defence minister, ordered an inquiry, and a halt to shelling in Gaza until was complete. The ministry said he would receive its findings tomorrow. Some of the dead were killed in bed as shells struck seven houses, and others rushed outside but found no safety.

Civilians killed in their beds
Thirteen members of one extended family were killed and the dead included seven children and four women, residents and the Palestinian health ministry said. Olmert’s office said he and Peretz “voiced sorrow over the deaths of Palestinian civilians”.

Gordon Johndroe, a spokesperson for the White House national security council, called for restraint by all parties, adding: “We deeply regret the injuries and loss of life in Gaza today. We have seen the Israeli government’s apology and hope their investigation will be completed quickly.”

Khaled Meshaal, the leader of the governing Islamic militant group Hamas, urged retaliation. Hamas declared a partial truce in March 2005, which expired at the end of last year. It has not carried out a suicide bombing in Israel since 2004.

“All Palestinian groups are urged to activate resistance despite the difficult situation on the ground. Our confidence in our military wing to respond is great,” said Meshaal, who is based in Damascus.

Retaliation vowed
The Islamic Jihad militant group, which never accepted the ceasefire brokered by Abbas and Egypt, vowed to carry out suicide bombings in response to the Beit Hanoun strike. Israeli police said they had gone on high alert.

Hamas’s armed wing, decrying Washington’s “political and financial support” for Israel, appeared to call on Muslims to attack US targets, urging them “to teach the American enemy harsh lessons”.

An Israeli military statement said the army had “fired preventative artillery at launch sites from which Qassam rockets were launched (on Monday) into Ashkelon”, in southern Israel.

Israeli media said an artillery battery had missed its target, about a kilometre (half a mile) from Beit Hanoun. An army spokesperson could not confirm this. “We fled the house only to be hunted outside. The shells killed my mother and sister and wounded all my siblings, said Asma al-Athamna (14) who was hit by shrapnel. – Reuters