Olmert: Sorry for civilian deaths in Gaza
Prime minister expresses his regret following IDF shelling in Beit Hanoun, which killed 18 civilians. Olmert, Peretz offer PA humanitarian aid, immediate medical treatment for injured. Diplomatic sources: Timing of tragic event 'problematic' due to PM's upcoming meeting with Bush in Washington
The two offered the Palestinian Authority urgent humanitarian aid and immediate medical treatment for the injured, which include children, women and elderly people.
Defense Minister Peretz added that he had instructed the army to launch an immediate investigation into the incident. The defense minister instructed the IDF to halt its artillery fire in the northern Gaza Strip until the investigation is completed.
Olmert and Peretz met Wednesday morning for a prescheduled discussion on the security situation in the north. During the discussion, the officials received updates on the difficult incident in Beit Hanoun, in which 19 Palestinian civilians were reportedly killed.
Following the incident, terror organizations in the Gaza Strip boosted the firing of rockets at southern Israel. One rocket landed in the center of Sderot, lightly injuring one woman. Several people suffered from shock.
Bloody streets in Beit Hanoun (Photo: AFP)
Following the defense minister's instruction, the IDF launched an immediate investigation into the incident. According to initial reports, the artillery fire targeted launching sites used to fire Qassam rockets at Gaza vicinity communities.
According to the Palestinian report, however, the artillery fire hit houses in a residential neighborhood.
Diplomatic sources said that the timing of the tragic incident in Beit Hanoun was problematic because it took place on the eve of the prime minister's trip to Washington to meet with US President George W. Bush.
'Palestinians are those firing at civilians'
Israeli officials understand that the incident would harm Israel's status in the world. Therefore, Israeli representatives in the world's capitals were instructed to make it clear that the artillery shells were fired in response to the ongoing fire at Sderot and Ahskelon.
"This is self-defense fire, after all of Israel's attempts to prevent the onoing fire of rockets through diplomatic measures have failed," a senior diplomatic source in Jerusalem said.
"Israel left Gaza and is seeking every way to reach a diplomatic solution. The Palestinians are the ones firing at a civil population in Israel's south, fire which is causing casualties. We are exerting legitimate efforts to defend Israel's residents in the south. Unfortunately, this unintentional tragic incident is the outcome of the terror activities coming from an area under the sovereignty of the Hamas government," the source added.
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.
Hanan Greenberg contributed to the report