Israeli artillery attack kills seven Palestinians at beach picnic; Hamas calls off truce |

Israeli artillery attack kills seven Palestinians at beach picnic; Hamas calls off truce

BEIT LAHIYA, Gaza Strip – The warm, summery day in Gaza prompted Palestinian farmer Ali Ghalia to load his family up and head to the Mediterranean shore for some relaxation.But the seaside picnic Friday turned to tragedy in a split second. An errant Israeli artillery shell exploded near the family. Ghalia and five family members, including three children, were dead.”This was his first day at the beach this summer. He was taking his kids to play,” said his sister-in-law, Nasreen Ghalia. One of the survivors was his 7-year-old daughter, Hadeel, who remained hospitalized and unaware that she had lost her parents and two young siblings.”Hadeel is now an orphan,” Nasreen said. The family ordered visitors not to break the news to the girl.After the attack, the militant wing of the Islamic Hamas group called off a 16-month truce with Israel, raising the prospect of a new wave of fighting.Hamas suspended a bloody campaign of suicide bombings, which have killed scores of Israelis, after the February 2005 cease-fire declaration and has largely stuck to the truce. The group now leads the Palestinian government.”The earthquake in the Zionist towns will start again and the aggressors will have no choice but to prepare their coffins or their luggage,” the Hamas military wing said in a statement. “The resistance groups … will choose the proper place and time for the tough, strong and unique response.”The Israeli artillery attack was part of a wider aerial and artillery bombardment of suspected Palestinian rocket-launching sites that killed a total of 10 people Friday.The violence fueled tensions already high over Israel’s assassination of a top militant commander in the Hamas-led government a day earlier. Tens of thousands of people, including angry gunmen firing in the air, packed a southern Gaza soccer stadium for the funeral Friday.Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack on the beach as a ” genocidal crime,” called for international intervention and declared a three-day mourning period. His rival, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, called the attack a “war crime” and urged an end to recent fighting between Hamas and Abbas’ moderate Fatah movement.The killings raised questions about whether Abbas would go ahead with referendum on establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel despite pleas from Hamas to hold off.Abbas is eager to restart stalled peace talks with Israel, and on Saturday was expected to formally announce a July 31 date for the referendum. An official close to Abbas said late Friday the president would make his announcement as planned on Saturday.The Israeli army said its attacks were aimed at areas that Palestinian militants used to fire homemade rockets at southern Israel.”I express deep regret over the fact that uninvolved persons have been hit,” Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant, Israel’s southern commander, told reporters in a conference call. “We shall try to find a way to ensure not to harm the uninvolved.”Kamal Ghobn had just arrived at the beach on a bus with about 50 relatives at the time of the attack.”I was still parking the bus and everyone got out to go to the beach. As I locked the door I felt the thud of the shells and felt a sting in my side,” said Ghobn, who was lightly wounded by shrapnel.He said he saw four shells land. No one else in his family was hurt.The artillery fire scattered body parts, destroyed a tent. Bloody sheets where the picnickers had sat went flying into the air and a panicked crowd quickly gathered, screaming and running hysterically.A sobbing girl lay in the sand, crying uncontrollably for her father. “Father! Father!” she screamed, as the body of a man lay motionless in the sand nearby.Palestinian officials said seven people were killed and more than 30 wounded. Nasreen Ghalia said it was the second tragedy to strike her family, which owns farmland in the border town of Beit Lahiya.An Israeli shell hit the family farm two years ago, killing four other family members, she said.”I just want the Israelis to leave us alone,” she said.In an airstrike elsewhere in northern Gaza, three militants were killed after they fired a rocket into Israel.Hamas staged a series of large demonstrations across Gaza late Friday. In Gaza City, leaders quoted from the militant wing’s statement calling off the cease-fire with Israel.”We cannot remain silent,” said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri. “God willing, the reprisal is going to be earth shaking. We have no option but to defend ourselves, our people, our children and our land.”The tough stance by Hamas was likely to deepen a dispute between the group and Abbas.Haniyeh sent a letter to Abbas on Friday urging him not to hold the referendum and to continue negotiations over the plan. He said the referendum would divide the Palestinian people and instead proposed forming a national unity government with Fatah.”The idea of the referendum now on the table carries many dangers,” Haniyeh wrote. “I’m afraid it will cause a historic rift that will hurt the Palestinian cause for decades to come.”But late Friday, Palestinian lawmaker Saeb Erekat, a confidant of Abbas, said the president would announce the referendum as planned on Saturday.Public opinion polls show the two-state proposal enjoys widespread support. But an angry backlash after Friday’s killings could erode Abbas’ support.Abbas has endorsed the referendum plan as a way to end crippling international sanctions against the Palestinians and restart peace talks.Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction, wants changes in the language of the proposal, and the latest violence is likely to only deepen the group’s hard line.

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