Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, expressed "deep regret"
for army operations that have killed 14 Palestinian civilians in Gaza in just
nine days but said the lives of Israeli citizens threatened by Qassam attacks
were "even more important".
The deaths in three separate missile attacks overshadowed Mr Olmert's first
meeting with the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, since taking office,
as grieving relatives gathered here to mourn the two latest civilian victims,
Fatima Ahmed, a 37-year-old pregnant mother of two small children, and her brother
The siblings were killed by an Israeli missile which had been launched in the
second bungled attempt to assassinate militants in less than 24 hours. The attack
wounded 13 other members of the family, including six children, and partly wrecked
the house in which they had all been concluding a celebratory meal in honour
of Mr Ahmed, who had been on a week-long visit from Saudi Arabia to see his
A pile of fallen masonry and a gaping hole in the house's straw roof were still
visible yesterday at the house, about 20 metres from the main Salahadin north-south
Gaza road at the entry to Khan Yunis.
The Israeli Defence Forces say that the attack early on Wednesday evening was
aimed at a pick-up truck carrying members of militant Palestinian Resistance
Committees. Witnesses said a six-inch crater on the other side of the road from
the house was from a second missile.
The dead victim's sister-in-law, Amtiaz Ahmed, 47, described how she had been
in the kitchen preparing coffee and tea at the end of the meal when the missile
struck. Displaying a dozen shallow cuts on the back and arms of her 15-month-old
nephew, Ahmed Sufian Ahmed, which she said were from shrapnel, Mrs Ahmed exclaimed:
"Is he a terrorist? Does he have a rocket-propelled grenade? It is the
Zionists who are the terrorists."
Three children were killed in an assassination attempt designed to curb Qassam
rocket attacks from Gaza on Israel on Tuesday.
Mr Olmert said last night in Caesarea: "I am deeply sorry for the residents
of Gaza, but the lives, security and well-being of the residents of Sderot [the
Israeli border town which has borne the brunt of Qassam attacks] is even more
important. I reject the attacks on the IDF and its commanders. No one is more
dedicated or more cautious, and will continue to be so in the future."
Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, this week called on Israel to ensure
its responses were "proportionate and do not put civilians at grave risk
". Almost three times as many Palestinian civilians have been killed
in Gaza in the past nine days as Israeli civilians in Sderot killed by Qassam
rockets in the past five years.
Maj-Gen Eliezer Shakedi, the Israeli air force commander entrusted with investigating
how the civilian deaths occurred, told Army Radio: "We have to make a great
effort to try everything possible to avoid hitting civilians." But he added:
"We have to fight terrorism and we are doing it... This is... the most
accurate and the best possible option without launching a broad and very significant
The dead woman's husband, Nidal Wahba, 39, said the couple's 18-month-old son
Khaled was in hospital after having emergency surgery for injuries to his head.
With heavy irony, he added: "He has been shooting rockets at Amir Peretz",
the Israeli Defence Minister who lives in Sderot.
But Mr Wahba, who works for an aluminium fabrication firm, said he wanted to
see an end to violence on both sides. "We are against all this. We don't
want to teach our children violence. I wouldn't like to see this happen to Israeli
The attack came amid signs of progress in talks between Fatah and Hamas designed
to reach an agreement on a two-state solution to the conflict with Israel. Mr
Wahba said: "There are people in Gaza who want to make war against Israel
and people who want to make peace. I want the Palestinians to have one goal
and that should be peace."
Of the missile strike which killed his wife and brother-in-law, he added: "
I hope it will be the last one."
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