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Air Strikes, Shelling Kills 10 Palestinians

By Nidal al-Mughrabi; Reuters, 09.06.06

GAZA (Reuters) - Israeli air strikes and artillery fire killed 10 Palestinians on Friday, including three children on a crowded Gaza beach, the highest Palestinian death toll in a single day since late 2004, Palestinian officials said.
Seven people, including five from the same family, were killed in a shelling of the beach, which Palestinian sources said came from Israeli ships.
The three children died while playing in the sand while their sister, who had been swimming, survived.
About 20 more people were injured in the attack, which Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called "a bloody massacre". The Israeli army said it would investigate the shelling.
Prime minister and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, speaking at a hospital where injured were being treated, calling the incident a "war crime" and urged Jordan and Egypt, both mediators in past Israeli-Palestinian talks, to intervene.
The Israeli army initially said its ships had fired shells at militants who launched rockets against the Jewish state after Israel's killing of a top militant who also served as a senior security chief appointed by the Hamas-led government.
Israeli Military Southern Command Chief Yoav Galant said the army suspended its artillery shellings and was investigating the killings on the beach. He said he regretted any civilian deaths.
"We did not fire into a place where there were innocents," Galant told reporters in a conference call. "We are exploring two possibilities -- a wrongly aimed artillery shell or an independent incident we were not involved in."
He did not elaborate on who else may have been behind the killings.
The rising death toll stoked tensions as Haniyeh made a last-minute appeal to Abbas to abandon a proposed referendum on statehood that would implicitly recognize Israel. The Hamas militant group is sworn to destroying the Jewish state.
An Israeli air strike on a car killed three Palestinian civilians in Gaza, medics said, minutes after Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) gunmen fired rockets into Israel in response to the killing overnight of Jamal Abu Samhadana, a PRC militant group leader.
The army said the dead were involved in rocket attacks.
A top Hamas militant was wounded in an Israeli air strikes on another car, security sources said. The PRC, a coalition of militants, has spearheaded rocket attacks from Gaza since Israel quit the territory last year after 38 years of military rule.
Friday marked the largest number of Palestinians killed by Israel since December 2004, when an Israeli raid in Gaza aimed at stopping rocket launchers killed at least nine Palestinians.
Haniyeh called for Abbas to back down for the sake of Palestinian unity after the killing of Abu Samhadana. Abbas aide Saeb Erekat brushed aside Haniyeh's appeal.
Abu Samhadana, who topped Israel's wanted list for his role in a more than five-year Palestinian revolt, was the first Hamas government appointee to be killed by Israel since Hamas group took control of the Palestinian Authority.
Abu Samhadana's appointment in April to the Interior Ministry, which oversees Palestinian security forces, angered Abbas, who had been struggling to salvage peacemaking with Israel since Hamas assumed power in March.
Abbas is expected to issue a presidential decree on Saturday that will call for holding a referendum on the statehood proposal by July 31 because Hamas has refused to back it.
Haniyeh said it had "no legal and constitutional basis" and urged Palestinians to stop debating the issue.
The proposed manifesto implicitly recognizes Israel by calling for a Palestinian state on all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.