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Israels crime against humanity

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by Hisham Abu Taha

A hospital worker shows journalists the bodies of four children after their house was shelled by Israeli tanks in the Beit Hanoun neighborhood of Gaza Strip on Monday while they were having their breakfast.

Israeli tanks shelled a house in the Beit Hanoun neighborhood of the Gaza Strip yesterday killing six Palestinians, including four children and their mother.

“They have wiped out my family,” said the children’s father, Ahmed Abu Mouteq, putting his hands on his head in despair and weeping as the bodies were prepared for burial.

The four children were identified as one-year-old Musab, four-year-old Saleh, three-year-old Hana and six-year-old Rodina. Their 40-year-old mother was named as Miyaser.

“I left my house just moments before to look for one of my children. I heard the sound of the explosion, and when I returned home I found my wife and my children in a pool of blood,” said the grieving father.

“They had been eating breakfast and my wife had been holding our youngest child in her hands,” said Abu Mouteq as he looked down at blood, bits of flesh and spilled milk splashed across the wreckage.

“My wife and children were in the courtyard in their pajamas when the Israelis shelled this house,” he said.

“They were eating when they were hit,” said a neighbor at the site, where chickens pecked at a bloodstained floor and cooked potatoes grew cold in a pot.

A 17-year-old Palestinian civilian, Ayyoub Attalah, who was passing by the home, was also killed in the missile strike.

“This aggression does not serve efforts being exerted to achieve calm, and it obstructs the peace process,” said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Hamas lashed out at Israel, saying the Beit Hanoun assault undermined talks in Egypt aimed at securing a cease-fire in Gaza.

Senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the massacre was part of Israel’s constant attempts to destroy any regional or international effort to lift the siege and end violence.

Hamas’ armed wing, Ezzeddine Al-Qassam Brigades, said it fired three rockets at the town of Sderot in response to the Beit Hanoun carnage.

“We are currently investigating this morning’s tragic incident,” said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Earlier yesterday, leaders of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Popular Resistance Committees and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine traveled from Gaza to Cairo for talks with Egyptian intelligence officials on a possible cease-fire with Israel. Hamas has offered Israel a six-month truce if it lifted an embargo on the territory.

Israel dismissed the truce proposal on Friday, saying the Palestinian group wanted to prepare for more fighting rather than peace.

But Hamas said on Saturday it was waiting for an official Israeli response, and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said he would wait until Egyptian mediators met Israeli officials to relay the cease-fire proposal before deciding how to react.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Haniyeh has expanded his dismissed Cabinet by appointing five new ministers in another move consolidating his de facto administration in the Gaza Strip.

Among the five new Cabinet members were Mahmoud Zahar, whom Haniyeh re-appointed as foreign minister, and Said Siam, who was given the Interior Ministry portfolio.

Both also served as foreign and interior minister in the Hamas-led government formed in March 2006, shortly after Hamas defeated Fatah in free and fair elections.

The de facto Cabinet headed by Haniyeh had had only five members, including the deposed premier himself, since June 2007. In that month, Hamas took control of the Strip by overpowering the headquarters of security forces loyal to Abbas and Fatah.

Abbas responded by dismissing the Hamas-led government and appointing a caretaker government based in the West Bank.

However, that government headed by acting Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has never been ratified by the Hamas-dominated Palestinian Parliament.

Taher Al-Nounou, the spokesman of the de facto Hamas Cabinet, said Gaza members of the Palestinian Parliament would convene “soon” for a vote of confidence in the five new nominees.

The Parliament as a whole has been dysfunctional due to the Gaza-West Bank split — which has led Fatah to boycott sessions — and also because Israel has arrested many Hamas parliamentarians.