Gaza family deaths spark fresh violence

By Anshel Pfeffer, May 2, 2008

The deaths of a mother and her four children in the Gaza Strip have sparked fresh violence — despite ongoing ceasefire talks in Cairo — and a debate within Israel on how to respond to disputed Palestinian deaths.

Miyasar Abu Meatak and her four children Rudina, Hana, Saleh and Mousad, aged 15 months to six years, were killed by an explosion while eating breakfast in the town of Beit Hanoun on Monday morning. Two more children were severely wounded.

The Palestinians claimed that an Israeli shell had hit the house. Israel responded that the incident was under investigation, and later the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement expressing regret, saying that there had been exchanges of fire in the area.

At the same time, Defence Minister Ehud Barak, touring a munitions factory, said: “Hamas is responsible for all that happens in Gaza. It operates from populated areas and is to blame for most of the ‘not-involved’ who are hit in these operations.”

Later in the day, Israeli reporters were briefed by IDF sources that the family had been killed by explosives carried by two Hamas members hit from the air by an Israeli aircraft.

But the IDF could not locate evidence to back up these claims. On Wednesday evening, the IDF was planning to present to reporters surveillance footage proving its claims. But the briefing was cancelled after the footage was deemed insufficient to prove the case of “secondary explosions”.

The Palestinian organisations intensified their firing on Israel. Over the next three days, more than 45 Kassams fell on Sderot and the southern Negev.

“Perhaps we should have been quicker to emphasise our regret,” an official from the Prime Minister’s Office told the JC, “but we managed to change the tone of coverage in some of the international media.”

Former IDF spokesman Nahman Shai was more scathing.

“We are still suffering from the trauma of the Mohammed Al-Dura case,” he said, “when we immediately took responsibility for his [2000] killing and then, by the time we found out that it might not have been us, it was too late. So the IDF and the government have gone to the other extreme and now won’t express regret when people get killed so as not to seem guilty.”

Last updated: 6:08pm, May 7 2008