Nine Palestinians were killed and dozens wounded on Tuesday in an Israel Air Force strike on a Katyusha-launching cell in Gaza City. Seven of those killed were civilians, including two children and three medical personnel.Coming so soon after the Gaza Beach incident--even granting the proof that Hamas mines were to blame--another wave of criticism both internally and abroad is on its way. This time, there may be a valid issue of error and preventable casualties. According to Haaretz there were 2 braces of missiles fired. The Palestinian Arabs claim there was a 4 minute lull that allowed people to collect around the wreckage, before the second brace of missiles fell. The IDF says only a minute elapsed and afte the the second brace was fired there was only a 7-second warning of civilians at the site before the missiles hit--not enough time to divert the missiles without possibly increasing casualties.
The incident began shortly after noon, when IAF planes fired a brace of missiles at a van containing four or five Islamic Jihad operatives. According to the Israel Defense Forces, the van also contained GRAD Katyusha rockets; this was confirmed by television footage from the scene of the strike, in which the rockets were visible. The Jihad operatives were apparently en route to launch the rockets at Israel.
Haaretz is making an issue of the fact that the IDF is not releasing the video they have of the attack to back up their claim and notes that the presence of medical pesonnel indicates there was more than just a one minute lull.
By the same token, the article also notes what happened after the first missiles hit:
The missiles landed near the van, causing only minor damage, and the Jihad operatives quickly abandoned it, apparently unharmed. Some of them then went to a nearby house, while others, aided by the numerous bystanders who had gathered at the site, surrounded the van and apparently tried to extract the Katyushas.Palestinian civilians who decide to get involved in an attack are no longer innocent bystanders--while it is a tragedy that true bystanders were killed, as long as the attempt was made to save the the Katyushas for another strike, the threat still remained.
Statements by Minister of Defense Peretz may indicate a change in attitude towards dealing with the threat of the missiles:
Shortly before the missile strike, Defense Minister Amir Peretz told reporters that Israel's restraint had ended. "We've displayed the necessary restraint in light of the international storm, but that's over," he said, while observing a military exercise in the north. "No consideration will replace our obligation to defend Israel's citizens ... There are no guarantees for anyone, regardless of his title, his affiliation, or the name and status of his organization."It's a good start--the question is whether the apparent determination can be sustained in the face of the inevitable public outcry by the left in Israel and the media abroad.
Following the attack, Peretz and IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz expressed regret over the civilian deaths but justified the decision to strike at the Jihad cell. Halutz explained that Israel "cannot accept" Katyusha launches at its territory. Added Peretz: "Unfortunately, these organizations launch attacks from populated areas in order to hurt our citizens."
In the meantime, Israel lives in a situation where Haaretz can report:
The missile strikes followed a relatively quiet night, in which only six Qassam rockets were fired at Israel [emphasis added]