Blast during Gaza fight kills Palestinian mother, 4 children

Blast during Gaza fight kills Palestinian mother, 4 children

An explosion shattered a tiny Gaza Strip house as Israeli troops battled militants Monday, killing a Palestinian woman and four of her children in new bloodshed that threatened efforts to arrange a truce between the warring sides.

Palestinians said the house was hit by an Israeli tank shell; Israel said explosives being carried by militants blew up and brought down the two-room structure.

Miyasar Abu Meatak was preparing breakfast for her children in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun when an explosion ripped through the home, her stepson Ibrahim said. Four of her children, ages 15 months to 6 years, were killed instantly, and she died shortly afterward at a hospital, Palestinian officials said. Her two older children were reported critically wounded.

“What a black day. They killed my family,” the grief-stricken father, Ahmad Abu Meatak, wailed outside the hospital. Abu Meatak said he was on his way to a nearby market when the house blew up.

The force of the blast scattered clothes and other household items outside the wrecked home. A single white child”s shoe, flattened by the explosion, lay near a pair of blue shorts covered in sand. A green baby seat, one end bent, stood empty.

Omar Abdel Nabi, a farmer in a large crowd watching workers clean up debris and bloodstained sand, said he was driving his tractor in a nearby field when two or three explosions shook the ground.

“People were screaming that a tank shell landed in the next street,” he told The Associated Press. “I carried two people covered in blood out of a house.”

Israel”s military said its troops launched an operation in the town after gunmen approached a border patrol. Palestinian Health Ministry official Moaiya Hassanain said two militants and an unidentified men were also killed in the fighting.

In a statement, the military said explosives carried by the militants were detonated by an Israeli airstrike, and the blast from the explosives hit the house, not a tank shell, “and uninvolved civilians were hit.” Palestinians said the militants were at least 400 yards from the house and none of the fighters were killed near the structure.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak put the blame on the Islamic militants of Hamas, which has run Gaza since defeating the rival Fatah movement in a five-day battle last June. Barak said Israel would continue to operate in the volatile coastal territory.

“We see Hamas as responsible for everything that happens there, for all injuries,” Barak said during a tour of an Israeli weapons factory. “Hamas is also responsible, by operating within the civilian population, for some of the civilian casualties.”

During fighting April 16, a Reuters TV cameraman was killed by an Israeli tank shell in central Gaza.

At least 18 rockets and dozens of mortar shells were fired at Israel from Gaza on Monday, the Israeli military said. No one was seriously hurt. Palestinian militants frequently launch rockets from Beit Hanoun.

In recent weeks, militants have also tried to infiltrate into Israel at least four times.

Monday”s violence was a blow to Egyptian efforts to mediate a truce between Israel and Gaza militants.

Ismail Haniyeh, Gaza”s Hamas prime minister, accused Israel of trying “to ruin any regional and international efforts to end the siege and halt aggression.”

Last week, Hamas said it would accept a six-month cease-fire with Israel, provided Israel ended the economic blockade it imposed on Gaza after the Hamas takeover. The blockade has caused shortages of fuel, cement and other basic items in the impoverished territory.

Israel dismissed the truce offer, saying Hamas would use the lull to rearm after sustaining heavy losses in recent fighting. But Israel said it would hold its fire if Hamas and smaller Gaza militant groups halted their attacks.

While battling Hamas in Gaza, Israel has been conducting peace talks with the rival Palestinian government of President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.

Abbas condemned the new Gaza fighting, saying it would make peace negotiations with Israel even more difficult. “We emphasize the need to achieve calm and keep our people away from the agony of war and destruction,” he said.

The sides hope to reach a peace deal by the end of the year, though Abbas acknowledged after a trip to the White House last week that he was growing pessimistic because of the lack of progress in talks.

In the West Bank on Monday, a Palestinian military court ordered the execution of a man convicted of collaborating with Israel.

Judges said the man, a Palestinian security officer, provided information that helped Israeli forces kill four Palestinian militants. Abbas must approve death sentences, though often they are commuted.

The last execution was in 2001. Suspected collaborators are often killed vigilante-style before they can be arrested and tried.