President Mahmud Abbas on Wednesday condemned the ongoing Israeli air strikes in Palestinian civilian areas as ‘state terrorism’.
The attacks claimed the lives of three children, three medical workers, three civilian bystanders and a leading anti-occupation activist among eleven Palestinians killed by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday.
The activist killed was identified as Hamoud Wadiya of the Islamic Jihad.
Separately, an undercover unit of the IOF hours later extra-judicially killed anti-occupation activist Mohammad Subhi Naji al-Wahsh Abu Satour in the northern West Bank refugee camp of Jenin overnight on Wednesday.
The Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s eight weeks in power have proved to be the bloodiest, deadliest and the most criminal period of the 58-year-old state of Israel, said the Palestine Media Centre.
Since he was sworn in as the 12th prime minister of Israel on April 14, the Israelis have killed more than 50 Palestinians and injured around 200 almost at a rate of one killed and four injured per day.
‘Olmert has set a record, surpassing the one established by his predecessor Ariel Sharon during the bloodiest days of the Palestinian uprising or Intifada against the 39-year old Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip,’ a commentator wrote.
Olmert’s new ‘Defence’ Minister, Amir Peretz, said on Tuesday that Israel will no longer show restraint toward Palestinians involved in anti-Israel operations, regardless of civilian casualties, adding: ‘We will act with all our might and use all our means against any group that acts against us.’
The IOF on Tuesday admitted killings of Palestinian civilians.
The IOF Head of Operations Directorate, Brigadier General Gadi Eisencott, confirmed that Palestinian civilians were killed in an Israeli rocket strike targeting Palestinian activists, Ynet reported.
Eisencott gave details of the preliminary investigation into Tuesday’s strike: ‘This afternoon an Islamic Jihad cell got into a car very near the launch site, with the intention of firing long-range Grad missiles at Israel.
‘The vehicle was located and munitions were fired at it.
‘Simultaneously, nearby civilians ran towards the car and were hit by a second missile that was fired.’
Tuesday’s strike killed nine civilians and wounded more than 35, all of them civilians and some of them critically injured.
Palestinian President Abbas condemned the air raids as ‘state terrorism,’ he told reporters at his office in Gaza.
Abbas said Israel is trying to ‘wipe out the Palestinian people.’
He said: ‘Every day there are martyrs, there are wounded people, all of them innocents, all of them bystanders.’
He added: ‘They want to eliminate the Palestinian people, but we are going to sit tight. We are sitting tight on our land. We want to establish our state and live in peace.’
‘What Israel is committing is state terrorism,’ he said.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, of Hamas, demanded an international commission of inquiry ‘to investigate the brutal crimes and the bloody Israeli massacres of our people.’
Chief Palestinian negotiator of Fatah, Saeb Erekat, called for restraint, adding: ‘We condemn, in the strongest possible terms, this Israeli military escalation.
‘Nine Palestinians have been killed this morning and I’m afraid to say that violence will continue to breed more violence.’
Spokesman of the ruling Hamas and lawmaker, Mushir al-Masri, described the deaths in Gaza as ‘war crimes,’ adding that Israel was in, what he called, ‘open war’ with ‘innocent Palestinian people’.
Islamic Jihad swiftly vowed revenge. ‘The resistance groups . . . will deliver a harsh response. All options are open,’ said Khader Habib, an Islamic Jihad leader in Gaza.
‘What happened today is a brutal massacre committed against innocent civilians and fighters from our group,’ said Habib, adding: ‘This massacre is similar to the one that took place on Friday.’
Habib was referring to an Israeli shell that killed a family of seven who were picnicking on a northern Gaza Strip beach and to a separate Israeli air strike that killed three civilians on the same day.
Huda Ghalia, 12, lost most of her family on Friday.
In New York City, the Arab Group at the United Nations agreed late Tuesday to set up two different teams to meet separately with Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the President of the Security Council, Ellen Margrethe Loj of Denmark, to discuss the ‘explosive’ situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).
Palestinian UN envoy Riyad Mansour told reporters that the meetings will take place ‘as soon as we coordinate with Annan’s and Loj’s offices, today or tomorrow.’
The first team, Mansour said, would be composed of the chairmen of the Arab group, Algeria; the Non-Aligned group, Malaysia; the Islamic Conference, Yemen; the head of the UN Palestinian Rights Committee, Senegal; and himself to meet ‘urgently’ with Annan.
The second team would be made of the same members plus Qatar, the only Arab member of the UN Security Council, and the coordinator of the NAM caucus in the council, Ghana, to meet with Loj.
Annan on Tuesday said he was ‘shocked and saddened’ by the Israeli missile attacks earlier in the day that killed nine Palesti?nians and injured 40 more.
He also said on Friday he was ‘deeply disturbed’ at the killing of a family on a Gaza beach and called for an investigation of the massacre.
Separately, Mansour wrote a letter to Denmark’s Loj earlier on Tuesday in which he said: ‘The international community must continue to strongly condemn Israel’s escalation of extra-judicial killings and deliberate and indiscriminate military attacks against civilian areas and, furthermore, the international community must take immediate action to bring a halt to these grave human rights violations and crimes against the Palestinian people.’
Meanwhile, after initially trying to blame the Gaza beach slaughter on a Palestinian mine, Israel admitted on Wednesday that it may have been responsible.
The Israeli military said on Wednesday that old Israeli ordnance could have killed the eight Palestinians last Friday, after its previous denial of responsibility was received with scepticism by the United Nations and elsewhere.
However, it refused to say the family had been killed by Friday’s shelling by the Israeli Navy.
General Meir Klifi, who is leading the Israeli Army investigation, said an examination of shrapnel removed from one of the casualties proved that it did not come from a 155mm shell, the type his army was firing at the Gaza Strip last Friday.
But he told Israeli radio: ‘It could be from another kind of munition that we have used in the past.’
This was a retreat from his position on Tuesday night when he appeared at a news conference with General Dan Halutz, the chief of staff, who said ‘we do not bear responsibility’ for the deaths.
However, the New York-based Human Rights Watch has already inspected the site of the explosion.
Marc Garlasco, a former Pentagon adviser who is now a military analyst with the group, said: ‘It is my contention that the most likely scenario is that Israeli shelling hit the area.’
Of Israeli suggestions that the blast was caused by a Palestinian mine, he said: ‘This is patently not the case. We are very certain that it is a 155mm shell.’
UN secretary-general Annan called Israel’s claims ‘odd’.
Asked whether an international inquiry was needed, he said: ‘We would need both the Israelis and Palestinian authorities to co-operate with such an investigation.’