Mother, 4 Children Die After Israel Strikes Gaza

By Griff Witte
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, April 29, 2008

JERUSALEM, April 28 -- A mother and four children were killed in Gaza on Monday after an Israeli airstrike targeting two gunmen sparked an explosion that destroyed the family's kitchen.

Israeli military officials said the blast was caused by explosives that the two gunmen were carrying in backpacks. But Gazan medical officials said the Israeli fire had directly struck the one-story, corrugated metal home of the Abu Meiteg family as the children and their mother began to eat breakfast.

The children ranged in age from 1 1/2 to 5. The blast also killed a teenager passing by the home, and the Israeli military said he may have been one of the targeted gunmen.

In a separate incident Monday, a fighter from the group Islamic Jihad was killed by Israeli fire. Later in the evening, another Palestinian was killed by Israeli fire, but it was not clear whether he was a fighter or a civilian. An Israeli soldier was lightly injured during operations in Gaza on Monday, the military said.

"I'm all alone!" a woman who identified herself as the grandmother of the children cried as she stood near the wreckage of the Abu Meiteg home. "I am coming now to my daughter's house, but there is no daughter. I am coming to my grandchildren's house, but there are no grandchildren. I miss you all."

The attack took place in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, a frequent launching area for rockets targeting southern Israel. The Israeli military said 18 rockets and more than a dozen mortar shells were fired from Gaza on Monday, adding to a tally that stands at more than 1,600 for the year. One Israeli home was damaged by the attacks, but they caused no serious injuries.

Monday's violence occurred as Israel and Hamas considered proposals for a cease-fire. Israeli officials dismissed Hamas's offer last week for a six-month truce in Gaza. But negotiations, mediated by Egypt, were continuing.

Gaza has been dominated by Hamas since last June, when the Islamist movement routed forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Abbas, who still holds sway in the West Bank, blamed Israel for the deaths Monday of the five family members, and said the incident hurt U.S.-backed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. "This aggression does not serve efforts being exerted to achieve calm, and it obstructs the peace process," Abbas said in a statement.

The Israeli military blamed Hamas for the deaths, saying the organization was using civilians "as human shields and risking their lives by keeping bombs and explosives near them."

Military spokeswoman Maj. Avital Leibovich said that two gunmen with backpacks slung over their shoulders were approaching Israeli soldiers Monday morning and that an airstrike was called in to intercept them.

Also on Monday, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency said it would resume food aid to Gaza's residents after it received enough fuel to make the deliveries. The agency had announced late last week that it would have to halt the assistance program because of the fuel shortage. There was enough fuel to last the agency through the end of this week.

Gaza's 1.5 million residents have been living under a severe Israeli economic blockade since the Hamas takeover last June. Conditions have grown worse in recent weeks after a series of attacks by Hamas and other allied groups on border crossings, as well as a strike by an association of gas station owners protesting Israeli supplies as inadequate.

Special correspondents Reyham Abdulkarim in Beit Hanoun and Islam Abdulkarim in Gaza City contributed to this report.

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