Defense Minister Amir Peretz ordered the IDF to conduct a quick and thorough investigation of Wednesday morning's incident in Gaza in which 18 Palestinians were killed, reportedly by IDF shelling.
Minister Peretz asked to be presented with the findings and conclusions as soon as possible. Peretz also ordered the suspension of artillery fire pending the completion of the investigation.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz ordered the IDF halt all artillery fire towards Gaza until the incident in examined. Halutz ordered the army to probe the incident and establish the connection between the IDF's activity and the civilian causalities.
Halutz may also appoint a special committee to examine the incident beyond the scope of the probe conducted by the Gaza Division and the Southern Command.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni referred to the incident during a business convention in Tel Aviv. According to Livni, "Israel has no plan to hurt innocent civilians, but to work to defend its citizens."
"Unfortunately, unfortunate incidents like this morning's incident sometimes take place as part of the fighting. Israel is facing an ongoing attack by Palestinian terror organizations, which is manifested in the ongoing Qassam fire at Israeli population centers," she added.
"The massacre in Beit Hanoun proves that the Israeli government is committing war crimes against civilians," said Knesset member Talab El-Sana (Ra'am Ta'al) after the incident. "Palestinian children and women who are murdered in their homes and in their beds. Olmert, Peretz and Halutz are war criminals who failed the first war and are committing war crimes in the second war."
He called for "the end of the ongoing slaughter" and said "tanks cannot kill the dream of a people aspiring to independence and freedom."
Evacuating the wounded in Gaza (Photo: AFP)
El-Sana's party member MK Ahamd Tibi also called the incident a war crime and called on Defense Minister Amir Peretz to resign. "The IDF is committing war crimes and massacring civilians, women and children," he said, "the crimes of the IDF are a mark of Cain on the forehead of the international community."
MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) condemned the killing in Beit Hanoun: "After the last invasion of Beit Hanoun where 60 Palestinians were killed, four Qassam rockets were fired at Ashkelon and after the killing this morning Israel's citizens in the south will suffer again."
Khenin said that the method of force has failed and that now is the time to start negotiations again.
MK Beilin: An appalling disaster
Hadash chairman MK Mohammad Barakeh, condemned what he called the war crimes and massacre committed by the Israeli government by its occupation forces in Gaza.
"The difficult images of the massacre in Beit Hanoun testify the criminal cruelty of this government which only strives for wars, crimes and massacres with the support of the origin of global terror – the White House in Washington." Barakeh called on the government to "stop its crimes and withdraw from Gaza for real."
MK Avshalom Vilan (Meretz) called on the Minister of Defense to suspend the use of artillery fire in Gaza. "A black flag is raised when the fire is directed towards civilians, the killing of innocent civilians must be stopped," he said.
Meretz chairman MK Yossi Beilin said that the appalling disaster in Beit Hanoun was part of a pre-written script.
"The moral and political price that the country will pay will be much higher than any supposed achievement of such an action," he said. "The government must order the immediate cessation of fighting and enter a process of intensive negotiations to reach a complete cease-fire. It's a shame that entering negotiations will be done under such harsh and difficult circumstances."
Ronny Sofer, Ali Waked and Hanan Greenberg contributed to this report