By Donald Macintyre in Khan Yunis, Gaza Strip
23 June 2006
Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, expressed "deep
regret" for army operations that have killed 14
Palestinian civilians in Gaza in just nine days but said
the lives of Israeli citizens threatened by Qassam attacks
were "even more important".
The deaths in three separate missile attacks overshadowed
Mr Olmert's first meeting with the Palestinian President,
Mahmoud Abbas, since taking office, as grieving relatives
gathered here to mourn the two latest civilian victims,
Fatima Ahmed, a 37-year-old pregnant mother of two small
children, and her brother Zakaria, 45.
The siblings were killed by an Israeli missile which had
been launched in the second bungled attempt to assassinate
militants in less than 24 hours. The attack wounded 13
other members of the family, including six children, and
partly wrecked the house in which they had all been
concluding a celebratory meal in honour of Mr Ahmed, who
had been on a week-long visit from Saudi Arabia to see his
A pile of fallen masonry and a gaping hole in the house's
straw roof were still visible yesterday at the house,
about 20 metres from the main Salahadin north-south Gaza
road at the entry to Khan Yunis.
The Israeli Defence Forces say that the attack early on
Wednesday evening was aimed at a pick-up truck carrying
members of militant Palestinian Resistance Committees.
Witnesses said a six-inch crater on the other side of the
road from the house was from a second missile.
The dead victim's sister-in-law, Amtiaz Ahmed, 47,
described how she had been in the kitchen preparing coffee
and tea at the end of the meal when the missile struck.
Displaying a dozen shallow cuts on the back and arms of
her 15-month-old nephew, Ahmed Sufian Ahmed, which she
said were from shrapnel, Mrs Ahmed exclaimed: "Is he a
terrorist? Does he have a rocket-propelled grenade? It is
the Zionists who are the terrorists."
Three children were killed in an assassination attempt
designed to curb Qassam rocket attacks from Gaza on Israel
Mr Olmert said last night in Caesarea: "I am deeply sorry
for the residents of Gaza, but the lives, security and
well-being of the residents of Sderot [the Israeli border
town which has borne the brunt of Qassam attacks] is even
more important. I reject the attacks on the IDF and its
commanders. No one is more dedicated or more cautious, and
will continue to be so in the future."
Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, this week called on
Israel to ensure its responses were "proportionate and do
not put civilians at grave risk ". Almost three times as
many Palestinian civilians have been killed in Gaza in the
past nine days as Israeli civilians in Sderot killed by
Qassam rockets in the past five years.
Maj-Gen Eliezer Shakedi, the Israeli air force commander
entrusted with investigating how the civilian deaths
occurred, told Army Radio: "We have to make a great effort
to try everything possible to avoid hitting civilians."
But he added: "We have to fight terrorism and we are doing
it... This is... the most accurate and the best possible
option without launching a broad and very significant
The dead woman's husband, Nidal Wahba, 39, said the
couple's 18-month-old son Khaled was in hospital after
having emergency surgery for injuries to his head. With
heavy irony, he added: "He has been shooting rockets at
Amir Peretz", the Israeli Defence Minister who lives in
But Mr Wahba, who works for an aluminium fabrication firm,
said he wanted to see an end to violence on both sides.
"We are against all this. We don't want to teach our
children violence. I wouldn't like to see this happen to
The attack came amid signs of progress in talks between
Fatah and Hamas designed to reach an agreement on a
two-state solution to the conflict with Israel. Mr Wahba
said: "There are people in Gaza who want to make war
against Israel and people who want to make peace. I want
the Palestinians to have one goal and that should be
Of the missile strike which killed his wife and
brother-in-law, he added: " I hope it will be the last