New Gaza tragedy threatens Cairo truce talks
Palestinian officials met in Egypt Tuesday to hammer out possible terms for a six-month truce between the Islamist militants and Israel.
This much is clear: A devastating blast Monday in Gaza killed five members of the same family – a mother and four children. But whose ammunition was responsible has turned into another bitter dispute as Israeli and Palestinian officials each blame the other.Skip to next paragraph
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Palestinians say Israel dropped either a tank shell or a missile into the Gaza house while the family was eating breakfast. The Israeli army says the family members were killed after it fired on militants carrying munitions nearby, sparking a secondary explosion that destroyed the family's home. It says the blast was caused either by "an explosive charge" or from "explosives that members of the terror cell were carrying near the house in which there were uninvolved civilians."
Following what Hamas officials called a "massacre" on Monday, the group launched 11 Qassam rockets and nine mortars into Israel's Negev region Tuesday, leading to a few direct hits on homes and buildings, but no serious injuries.
Amid controversy over the deaths of Gazan mother Miyasra Abu Muatak and her four children, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Tuesday expressed "deep remorse" for the loss of innocent life, but fundamentally blamed Hamas. He said the Palestinian group's militants were operating in civilian areas and turning residents "into an inseparable part of the war."
Just before a cabinet meeting, Mr. Olmert made reference to ongoing Egyptian efforts to help broker a truce between Israel and Hamas.
"I hope the terror organizations' brutal fighting will cease," he said. "But as long as the terror organizations fire at the [Israeli] South's residents, the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] will continue to operate against them."
Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak, sounded even less optimistic about a truce with Hamas as he toured Israel's controversial wall – alternatively referred to in Israel as a security barrier or a separation fence.
"Israel is in a state of conflict with Hamas, and not in a state of a cease-fire," Mr. Barak told reporters. "We are not happy when civilians are hurt, but we view Hamas as the one to blame," he added.
Some 30 representatives of various Palestinian factions gathered in Cairo Tuesday to meet with the Egyptian director of intelligence, Gen. Omar Suleiman, to present their positions on a proposed six-month Israel-Hamas truce.
Meanwhile, many Israeli officials are showing reluctance to accept a half-year deal, saying that it would only give Hamas and other Palestinian militant factions a period of time to rearm. On Tuesday, Egypt security officials said it has discovered five tunnels used to smuggle fuel and goods to Gaza. Israel charges that the tunnels are used to smuggle in weapons, as well.
As the rounds of finger-pointing continued, another member of Olmert's cabinet, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit, expressed doubt in the wisdom of agreeing to such a short cease-fire.