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Israel Launches Probe After Botched Attack

Thursday, June 22, 2006

ISN SECURITY WATCH (Thursday, 22 June 2006: 13.44 CET) - The head of the Israeli military launched a probe into civilian deaths in Israeli air strikes on Thursday after two civilians died in a failed assassination attempt in southern Gaza.

Two Palestinians were killed and 13 family members wounded when an Israeli aircraft fired a missile at a jeep transporting militants from the Popular Resistance Committees near the main road connecting the southern Gaza towns of Rafah and Khan Younis.

Quoting an unnamed military source, Ha'aretz said the missile missed its intended target by several dozen meters, slamming into a nearby house where the victims were having dinner.

Witnesses said that the PRC operatives jumped from their vehicle as the missile hit the house, running into a nearby field.

A 37-year woman killed in the strike, Fatima al-Barbawi, was seven months pregnant. Doctors were unable to save the fetus. Her brother was also killed.

Three children were among those wounded in the attack. Medical personnel told reporters that several of the injured are in critical condition.

An Israeli military spokesperson expressed regret over the incident, telling Ha'aretz: "What happened in this case, the missile simply missed."

Israeli Chief of staff Dan Halutz ordered Air Force commander Eliezer Shakedi to conduct an inquiry into the recurrent deaths of civilians in Israeli air strikes in recent weeks.

Palestinian non-combatants have been killed in four separate attacks in the last month. Wednesday night's attack followed the death of three children in an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City on Tuesday.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas released a statement denouncing the Israeli attacks. "The increased frequency of women and children falling victims to Israeli missiles, in an age of very precise electronic warfare, indicates a deliberate intention on the Israeli part to target every Palestinian and to cause maximum human, physical and psychological damage," he claimed.

Tuesday's attack drew admonitions from Russia, the UN and Britain.

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett urged the Israeli government to exercise the maximum restraint, saying "We call on the Israeli authorities to respect their obligations under international law and ensure that civilians, particularly children, are not harmed. In addition we call for an immediate halt to all rocket fire from the Gaza Strip on Israeli targets."

The Russian Foreign Ministry said that in Moscow "extreme concern is being expressed in connection with the actions of Israeli military forces [...] we believe that the use of force against the civilian population is unacceptable."

Israel has struggled to find an adequate response to the firing of rockets from the northern Gaza Strip.

Artillery barrages on rocket launch areas have been cut back following the death of a Palestinian family in an alleged Israeli shelling.

In other moves, Israeli special forces units have operated covertly in the northern Gaza in an effort to intercept militant cells preparing to fire rockets, while Israeli aircraft have conducted a series of raids on suspected militant targets and metal-works, including assassination strikes.

With rocket fire continuing there have been increasing calls in Israel for a return to full-scale military incursions into the Gaza Strip. These calls have been resisted by the government and rejected as ineffective by prominent figures in the military.

(By ISN Security Watch staff, Ha'aretz, Ynet, Al Jazeera)

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