Israeli attacks kill 6 in Gaza

truce in doubt

Palestinian premier urges U.S. to press Israel to halt offensive to stamp out rockets


BEIT LAHIYA, Gaza Strip -- Israeli attacks in the northern Gaza Strip yesterday left six Palestinians dead, including two children, and at least 10 wounded, casting doubt on the prospects of a cease-fire initiative being circulated among militant groups by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

One shell hit a parking lot here, killing three and injuring 10, authorities said. Witnesses said a second shell in another area of Beit Lahiya struck a donkey cart, killing a 60-year-old woman and her 12-year-old grandson.

The area around Beit Lahiya is a favored spot for Palestinian militants firing rockets into southern Israel. The twin smokestacks of the power plant in the Israeli city of Ashkelon are clearly visible, separated only by bare ground that used to contain several Israeli settlements.

Early yesterday, militiamen from the Aqsa Martyrs Brigade fired several rockets toward Ashkelon.

"Oh sure, they launch from all over the place around here," said Nasser Arasha, a 36 year-old unemployed Palestinian day laborer and resident of the Naba apartment complex in this Gaza border town.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said more than 50 rockets had been fired into Israel from the Beit Lahiya area in the past few weeks. "The launching of rockets has continued, so I guess you could say we decided to step things up," she said.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said Washington should pressure Israel to stop its weeks-long offensive in Gaza.

"All that we ask the American administration is to take a moral stance toward the Palestinian people and the Palestinian suffering, and to bear its responsibility as a superpower," he told the Associated Press.

The Israeli move to stem the attacks included a rocket attack launched from an Apache helicopter Sunday night on a house in Gaza City's Nasr neighborhood. Residents of the house said they received a call about 30 minutes before the attack from someone identifying himself as Israeli intelligence and warning them to evacuate.

The Israeli army spokeswoman said the helicopter targeted a warehouse known to be a storage site for rockets used by the Islamic Jihad militia. Neighbors in the area confirmed that the owner of the house is a prominent member of Islamic Jihad.

The Israeli campaign includes regular shelling of the areas that Palestinian militants use as launching grounds.

"We didn't target the apartment complex," said the Israeli army spokeswomen. "But the cells do fire from that building."

She attributed yesterday's deaths to "shells that misfired."

As the familiar whump and delayed thud of nearby artillery fire continued yesterday, families from Naba loaded luggage and strollers into waiting cars, while fielding frantic phone calls from relatives.

"They're all leaving," said Arasha, who smoked a cigarette while calmly surveying the scene. He said that he was planning to stay.

"I'm afraid the house will be looted if I leave it," he said.

Arasha used to work as a day laborer in Israel, he said, but that stopped months ago when Gazans were barred from entering.

He blamed Israel for the violence, but had no love for the "disastrous" new Palestinian government led by Hamas.

His solution to the generations-old Israeli-Palestinian standoff: "I wish the sea would take us both so the world could relax."

Ashraf Khalil writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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