Israeli Gaza attack kills 11

Jordan strongly condemns policies of ‘random, unjustified killing’, demands halt to operations

RAMALLAH —  As Israel tried to extricate itself from blame for Friday’s beach bombing, another deadly missile attack in Gaza killed 11 people yesterday, eight of them civilian, among them two children and three medical workers.

In London, meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said while he preferred to negotiate with the Palestinian side, Israel would only go so far and would never give over all the occupied West Bank.

The Israeli air strike occurred in a densely populated area of Gaza City and targeted a van carrying two Islamic Jihad members and apparently loaded with rockets.

The Israeli army said the rockets were Katyushas, commonly used by Hizbollah in Lebanon and with a longer range than the Palestinian Qassam rockets.

Israeli helicopters fired two missiles at the van. According to witnesses, the first struck the van sending it careering into the pavement. Moments later, when rescue workers had rushed to the scene and a crowd had gathered, another rocket was fired, killing most of the civilians.

“We have been showing restraint due to the international storm caused by the incident on Gaza beach — but no longer,” Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz was quoted by the YNet news site as telling reporters in northern Israel.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the missile attack “state terrorism” and accused Israel of trying to “wipe out the Palestinian people.”

“Every day there are martyrs, there are wounded people, all of them innocents, all of them bystanders,” he said. “They want to eliminate the Palestinian people, but we are going to sit tight. We are sitting tight on our land.”

More than 30 people were injured in the strike and Islamic Jihad vowed revenge.

“The Zionist enemy insists on shedding Palestinian blood and we insist on going ahead with our holy war and resistance,” Khader Abib, an Islamic Jihad leader in Gaza, told the Associated Press. “God willing, the resistance groups … will deliver a harsh response. All options are open.”

In Jordan, Government Spokesperson Nasser Judeh strongly condemned the Israeli attack against innocent civilians as well as its policy of “random and unjustified killing,” the Jordan News Agency, Petra, reported.

Judeh said the “government was contacting the Israeli government, demanding an immediate halt to such acts, which contradict with the international community’s desire to resume peace negotiations and implement the roadmap.”

“The Israeli practices poison the atmosphere and make things more difficult to revive the peace process.”

Meanwhile, Peretz said Israel was not responsible for the Friday beach bombing that killed eight people, seven from the same family.

An Israeli army investigation said a Hamas mine rather than an Israeli shell “most likely” caused the blast.

According to the findings, shrapnel removed from two wounded Palestinians taken to Israeli hospitals showed that the explosives were not made in Israel, Israeli officials said.

In addition, the inquiry found that the last Israeli shell was fired in the area seven minutes before the blast, the officials said. The last Israeli shell fired in the area was at 4:51pm, seven minutes before the blast, and landed 250 yards away from the scene, the officials added.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, however, said in an initial response to the Israeli claims that the blast occurred at about 4:40pm, when the army said it was still firing.

Israel claims Hamas has laid out mines on the northern Gaza beach in an attempt to stop any possible Israeli amphibious landing. But the Israeli army finding is not going to hold much water with Palestinians.

“This is a false allegation and the Israeli occupation state is trying to escape from shouldering its responsibility by accusing Palestinians without evidence or any proof,” said Ghazi Hamad, a Palestinian government spokesman.

A Palestinian security source told The Jordan Times that the finding was “ridiculous.”

“There is no need to respond to such nonsense. The Israeli claim is ridiculous.”

In Gaza, Human Rights Watch military expert Marc Garlasko inspected the shrapnel at the scene and saw the wounded. He concluded that the blast was caused by an Israeli shell, the AP reported.

“Our information certainly supports, I believe, an Israeli shell did come in and kill this people,” he said, ruling out a landmine. Garlasko was the first independent expert to inspect the scene.

Speaking to lawmakers at Britain’s parliament, meanwhile, Olmert expanded on remarks he made Monday, in which he said Israel’s planned withdrawal from the West Bank would encompass 90 per cent of the territory, leaving the remaining 10 per cent subject to negotiation.

But Tuesday he made clear such negotiations could only go so far.

“We’ll never agree to pull out of all of the territories, because the borders of 1967 are indefensible,” he said.

In light of international opposition to further unilateral steps by Israel, the government has begun to draft an alternative plan that would essentially convert Olmert’s unilateral “convergence plan” into a bilateral move carried out in conjunction with Abbas.

According to the plan, and as reported by the Israeli daily Haaretz, Israel will propose to Abbas that they reach an agreement to establish a Palestinian state with provisional borders in Gaza plus about 90 per cent of the West Bank. The provisional border in the West Bank would match the route of the West Bank Wall, and in addition Israel would retain security control over the Jordan Valley.

Israel also maintains that it will keep control over all major West Bank settlements that are illegal according to international law, as well as occupied East Jerusalem. Israel unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, and the area is not considered part of the West Bank according to Israeli calculations. Thus the 90 per cent Israel plans to hand over to the Palestinians is to be calculated from the remainder of the area.

The Israeli position is not in line with international law and would be unacceptable to Palestinians. It would also undermine Abbas’ plans for a referendum on the so-called Prisoners’ Document that calls for a Palestinian state on 1967 borders.

The Palestinian president’s decision to call a popular referendum on the document, set for July 26, has caused serious internal tension between Abbas’ Fateh Party and Hamas, with some 20 people now killed in the past month in fighting.

Olmert yesterday announced that Israel would allow a shipment of weapons from Jordan to Abbas’ personal security force, Force 17.

The light weapons are to enable Abbas “to cope with Hamas,” Olmert said at the British parliament.

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