WASHINGTON – The White House on Wednesday night urged restraint after Israeli artillery shells killed 18 Palestinian civilians in Gaza, and said it hoped for a swift completion of the investigation into the attack.
"We deeply regret the injuries and loss of life in Gaza today. We have seen the Israeli government's apology and hope their investigation will be completed quickly," said Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the White House National Security Council.
"We call on all parties to show restraint so as to avoid any harm to innocent civilians," he said.
The United Nations Security Council is expected to convene Thursday for an open discussion following the Beit Hanoun incident.
The Palestinians asked the Council to adopt a resolution calling for a complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and for stationing international peacekeepers on the border between the Gaza Strip and Israeli territories.
Palestinian UN observer Riyad Mansour said it was time for the UN's most powerful body to shoulder its responsibilities with regard to the Israeli offensive in Gaza.
The Israeli occupying forces have committed another massacre this morning in Beit Hanoun," Mansour said. "The Security Council has to react and to react immediately in order to stop this aggression and these crimes against the Palestinian people."
According to Mansour, the Palestinians demand that the Security Council calls on Israel to immediately withdraw from Gaza, to agree to the presence of international observers at the border with Gaza, and to reach a ceasefire agreement with the Palestinian government.
'No more 'sorry' from Israeli government'
Ahead of the Security Council meeting, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed "anguish and deep concern about the loss of civilian lives." He said a full investigation has been initiated.
"In the meantime, I hope measures will be taken to ensure that the kind of incident we had this morning does not happen, and that both sides will be conscious of their obligations with regards to international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians," Annan said.
He added that he had chosen to personally speak to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and that he calls on other influential leaders to do the same.
The demand to convene the Security Council following the Israeli operation was raised Wednesday morning by Qatar, the only Arab representative at the Security Council.
Qatar's demand was not accepted at first, but the Beit Hanoun incident changed the situation.
"We do not accept any more 'sorry' and 'mistakes' from the Israeli government when they continue repeating these massacres in Gaza," Mansour said. "Those who are responsible should be brought to justice."
News agencies contributed to the report