Israel May Withdraw Some Troops After Deadly Missile Strike
The one-ton “smart bomb” killed 15 and injured at least 145 in Gaza City on Monday, with Sheik Salah Shehada, the military leader of the militant Islamic group Hamas, and nine children among the dead. Palestinians vowed to avenge the deaths and said they were canceling ongoing talks aimed at establishing a ceasefire.
Shehada was considered a mastermind behind hundreds of Palestinian attacks.
Israeli officials on Wednesday insisted the civilian casualties were unintended and said faulty intelligence was partly to blame.
“According to the information which we had there were no civilians near [Sheik Salah Shehada] and we express sorrow for the injuries to them,” Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told Israel’s Cabinet.
Peres told reporters today that the army will soon withdraw from Hebron, Bethlehem and Yasser Arafat’s headquarters in Ramallah if the areas remain calm and the Palestinian Authority assumes control of the region.
Peres also informed the Palestinian finance minister this morning that Israel would hand over $45 million of withheld tax revenues and forgive $31 million in Palestinian debt to Israeli utilities. The foreign minister also said his government would release 4,000 more work permits to Palestinians.
The moves came as Israeli media appeared to reflect regret for the attack. “The assassination and the embarrassment,” read one headline in Maariv. Haaretz called it the “Gaza bombing disaster.”
Palestinian officials have expressed outrage at the killings.
“After yesterday’s heinous massacre in Gaza, there will be no more respect for a Zionist child or the so-called Zionist civilians,” Abdul Aziz Rantisi, a Hamas spokesman, said.
World leaders largely expressed disapproval of the Israeli airstrike, with President Bush calling it “heavy-handed.”
Arab leaders requested a United Nations Security Council emergency meeting and called for a resolution expressing grave concern over the raid and demanding that Israel pull out of Palestinian towns.
A draft text circulated by Arab envoys calls for “the complete cessation of all acts of violence, including military actions, destruction and acts of terror” in the Middle East.
Debate over the resolution is expected to begin Wednesday evening.