RAMALLAH â€” Two Palestinains were killed and 13 people injured when an Israeli missile missed its intended target yesterday and slammed into a house in the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis.
It was the fourth civilian Palestinian casualty in 24 hours. Late Tuesday, another Israeli missile strike in Jabalya refugee camp in northern Gaza killed two children, both aged five, and a 16-year-old girl.
An Israeli army spokeswoman confirmed that the army had carried out a strike against â€œa militant cellâ€, but gave no further details.
Witnesses said an Israeli aircraft fired a missile at a car on a main road near theÂ Khan Younis. The car escaped the attack but the missile struck a house.
Among the 13 wounded were several children and a pregnant woman. Medics said some were in critical condition.
The casualties come as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert prepare for their first meeting since the Palestinian and Israeli governments were formed. Tuesday, Abbas had urged armed Palestinian factions to end their rocket fire at Israeli targets near Gaza, but at the funeral yesterday for the three children thousands of mourners called for revenge.
In less than two weeks, 19 Palestinian civilians have been killed. Eight were killed on Gaza beach on June 9 in an attack the Israeli army subsequently said was not its fault.
But yesterday, the US-based Human Rights Watch group said the Israeli army investigation into the bombing had excluded all evidence gathered by other sources. It had either called into question or declined to accept evidence collected by the group, the statement added.
â€œAn investigation that refuses to look at contradictory evidence can hardly be considered credible,â€ said Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch.
â€œThe Israeli armyâ€™s partisan approach highlights the need for an independent, international investigation.â€
Major-General Meir Califi, who led the Israeli investigation, dismissed the accusations by the rights watchdog, calling the evidence â€œcircumstantialâ€. Israel has ruled out any international probe.
Elsewhere, Palestinian factions were continuing talks to reach agreement on the so-called Prisonersâ€™ Document.
Reports from the talks suggest agreement is near, though officials involved in the talks have predicted agreement before.
Yesterday, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said he was optimistic.
â€œThe dialogue has gone well and I think we are on the brink of announcing results,â€ Haniyeh told a human rights conference in Gaza City. A Hamas official involved in the talks echoed the optimism.
â€œSignificant progress has been made during the national dialogue based on the Prisonersâ€™ Document, and we hope to crown that with an agreement as quickly as possible,â€ the head of the Hamas delegation, MP Khalil Al Hayyeh, told AFP.
â€œAside from anything unforeseen, we need one or two days until the end of the week to reach an agreement on the document,â€ Hayyeh said.
A Fateh spokesman agreed.
â€œWe are close to an accord on national conciliation,â€ Maher Miqdad said. â€œIt does not matter if discussions carry on another one or two days since President Abbas said he did not object even if the agreement is reached a day before the planned date of the referendum.â€
â€œMost points have been concluded and I believe there is now only one point of disagreement which should be resolved in the coming days,â€ Miqdad added, without elaborating.
Hamas and Fateh representatives were to meet late Wednesday in what is in principle the last of a seven-day, second round of talks after the first 10 days of dialogue failed to reach agreement.
The talks are focused on the Prisonersâ€™ Document that implicitly recognises Israelâ€™s right to exist by calling for a Palestinian state on land occupied in 1967, an end to attacks in Israel and a national unity government.
Unless the initiative is accepted by all factions, Abbas will put it to a popular referendum already set for July 26. Hamas, however, is implacably set against a referendum, and has called the idea an attempt at overthrowing the government.
Polls suggest that a referendum on the document would see it pass, though the gap between those in favour and those against appears to be shrinking.
The latest poll, by the Palestinian Centre for Policy Survey and Research, PCPSR, released Monday, showed that while two-thirds of respondents said they were in favour of the content of the Prisonersâ€™ Document, only 47 per cent said they would vote for it in a referendum. Forty-four per cent said they would vote against.
The discrepancy appears to be popular perception that the referendum is being used as a tool against the government.Â