Friday, June 23, 2006

Two die as Israeli rocket strays | The World | The Australian

The Australian

Two die as Israeli rocket strays
Abraham Rabinovich, Jerusalem
June 23, 2006

FOR the fourth time in two weeks, Palestinian civilians have been killed in the Gaza Strip by an Israeli air strike aimed at militants.
Video: Israeli missile attack

A pregnant woman, Fatima al-Barbarwi, 37, and her brother, Zakariya Ahmed, 45, were killed when a missile fired at a truck bearing militants struck their house in Khan Yunis.

Fourteen members of the same family were wounded as they prepared to join in a festive meal for Mr Ahmed, who was on a visit from Saudi Arabia, where he worked as a doctor.

The fatalities bring to 15 the number of Palestinian civilians killed this month.

They came as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas held talks in Jordan, the first such top-level encounter ina year.

Mr Olmert later pledged he would "put everything on the line" for peace and said there would be more meetings with Mr Abbas, after the encounter over breakfast hosted by Jordan's King Abdullah.

Meanwhile, Israel's Chief of Staff General Dan Halutz yesterday ordered the air force to examine whether human error or malfunctions were to blame for the latest civilian deaths.

In Wednesday's incident, a missile aimed at the truck missed its target by 30m, an unusual deviation. It was not clear whether the missile was fired by a helicopter or from a drone operated remotely.

The high civilian casualty rate among Palestinians has placed the Israeli military in a quandary over its efforts to deter rocket launchings into Israel from the Gaza Strip. There have been 176 launchings in the past month alone.

Artillery fire against open areas used as launch sites was halted two weeks ago after seven members of a Palestinian family were killed by an explosion on a beach.

Although an internal investigation by the military concluded that the explosion was not caused by artillery fire, the shelling has not been resumed.

This leaves the air force as the only effective means for striking at the rocket crews and at the command level.

Israeli Air Force commander General Eliezer Shkedi said yesterday the militants had in recent weeks begun to change their tactics in order to escape air attacks, which killed 70 militants in the past month.

Drones and helicopters are an almost constant presence in the skies over Gaza.

General Shkedi said most of the rocket launchings were now carried out from within populated areas, sometimes in backyards. This has made it more difficult to track targets because Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas in the world.

General Shkedi said the air force would continue to strike at militants, although under more stringent guidelines.

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