Israel's air strike on Gaza on Tuesday, which killed nine Palestinian children,
may have wrecked an imminent commitment by Palestinian militants to end suicide
bombings against Israeli civilians.
Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, said yesterday that an agreement
had been within reach. British officials were part of a EU and US team that was
finalizing the terms of an Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire when Israel launched
its missile attack, diplomatic sources confirmed.
Palestinians burn a picture of U.S. President George W. Bush during a protest
by children in the Rafah refugee camp, in the south of the Gaza Strip July 25,
2002 to condemned the Israeli missile attack on Gaza that killed 15 Palestinians,
including nine children. The U.N. Security Council debated late into the night
about Israel's killing of 15 Palestinians in an attack on the house of a top Hamas
commander and the Jewish state said it would investigate the raid. (Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters)
They stopped short of pronouncing the agreement dead, saying that talks could
continue. But they indicated that the attack, in which the commander of the military
wing of the militant Hamas organization and 14 civilians were killed, had scuppered
the Palestinian-proposed deal for now.
Israel's Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, is facing his heaviest criticism for
months for authorizing the attack. Quoting a presidential aide, The New York
Times said George Bush was "visibly angry" when he heard of the strike.
Questions are being asked over the timing of the bombing. Diplomatic sources
would not be drawn on whether they believed the attack was timed deliberately
to thwart the proposed agreement. Israeli officials said the strike was an opportunistic
attack based on the whereabouts of its target, Sheikh Salah Shahadah, who died
in the bombing.
The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported that only 90 minutes
before the bombing, leading Palestinians linked to Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement
had agreed to publish a call for a unilateral end to attacks on civilians in Israel.
Yedioth Ahronoth printed what it said was a declaration that was meant
to be published today. "From this moment on," it reads, "we will cease all attacks
on innocent men, women and children who are non- combatants. We call on all the
political organizations and Palestinian movements to cease these attacks immediately,
without hesitation or conditions."
Leading figures inside Fatah and its Tanzim militia were understood to have
agreed to the declaration. Fatah is believed to be linked to the militant Al-Aqsa
Martyrs Brigades, which has claimed several suicide bombings and other attacks.
The militant Islamist Hamas also agreed to honor the call, reports said. Hours
before the air strike, the spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, said
the group would consider ending suicide attacks if the Israeli army withdrew from
West Bank towns it has reoccupied.
After Sheikh Shahadah's death, Hamas said all prospects of an end to attacks
The criticism of Mr Sharon increased when it emerged that the Israeli air force
had used a one-ton bomb. Previous assassination attempts have used guided missiles,
which are more accurate and cause less destruction.
It was clear that the Israeli government was unprepared for the deluge of condemnation
that it received from around the world. On Tuesday morning, Mr Sharon unapologetically
described the raid as "one of our biggest successes". By the evening, however,
the government was expressing its regrets in an attempt to limit the damage.
Mr Sharon told Yedioth Ahronoth that if he had known the attack would
cause such heavy civilian casualties, he would not have authorized it.
But the bomb was targeted at a packed residential area. On the ground it was
clear that any strike on that site would cause heavy civilian casualties, let
alone a one-ton bomb.
The foreign minister, Shimon Peres, promised a full investigation, telling
the BBC: "What happened is really regrettable. It wasn't done intentionally. I
think all of us feel sorry for the loss of life of innocent people, particularly
As Arab anger intensified, the United Nations Security Council scheduled an
open debate on the attack.
An editorial in Ma'ariv newspaper said yesterday: "Considering the location
of the house and the time of the operation, it should have been clear to the decision-makers
that children would be among the casualties.
"Ariel Sharon was, in fact, the only politician who was familiar with the details
of the operation and authorized it. He is, therefore, responsible and even if
he says over and over that it was a great success, he is wrong and misleading."
© 2002 lndependent Digital (UK) Ltd