Olmert Says Israel to Pursue Action Against Gaza Rocket Fire


By Jonathan Ferziger and Gwen Ackerman

Nov. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel will pursue military operations to stop rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, even as he expressed regret for the accidental killing of 18 Palestinians.

The shell that hit a Palestinian home in the northern Gazan town of Beit Hanoun was "a tragic mistake'' and meant to strike militants in a nearby orange grove who had fired an unguided Qassam rocket into Israel, Olmert said. Seven children died in the shelling.

"We are sad about it and we deeply regret it,'' Olmert said, speaking in an on-stage interview with Sky News at a Tel Aviv business conference. Nevertheless, ``military operations will continue as long as there will be firing of rockets.''

The army said five rockets fell on southern Israel today. Last night, the air force fired a missile at a car carrying the Hamas weapons chief, hitting it. Juma Saqqa, head of emergency services at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, said two Hamas members died, including rocket-maker Ahmed Awad, a son-in-law of Hamas Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar.

Israel began a military offensive against the rocket launchers on Nov. 1. So far about 90 Palestinians have been killed and one Israeli soldier has died. The army believes that Hamas has overcome a technological barrier that prevented the group from stockpiling its Qassam rockets and is now stepping up production, the daily Haaretz said, citing military officers.

The U.S., United Nations and European Union yesterday led calls for restraint by all parties in the region.

"We call on all parties to act with care and restraint so as to avoid any harm to innocent civilians,'' President George W. Bush said in a statement issued late yesterday by the White House.

UN Security Council
The UN Security Council will discuss the Middle East today after a request by Qatar, which yesterday circulated a draft resolution condemning the Israeli ``massacre'' in Beit Hanoun. The draft also calls for a cease-fire in Gaza and for UN observers to be sent to the region to supervise the truce.

Hamas, which took control of the Palestinian Authority in March after winning parliamentary elections, yesterday urged its armed members to attack U.S. targets in the Middle East.

Khaled Mashaal, the exiled political leader of Hamas, said in Damascus, Syria, that his group will no longer honor a February 2005 truce and called for new attacks in Israel to avenge the victims, the Associated Press reported.

Hamas hasn't claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Israel since January 2005, according to the Web site of Israel's Foreign Ministry. The group is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., the European Union and Israel.

Israel evacuated its settlers and troops from Gaza in September 2005. It has staged repeated incursions into the Palestinian-ruled territory because of the rockets and after the kidnapping of Corporal Gilad Shalit in June by gunmen led by Hamas.