- The Washington Times - Monday, September 2, 2002

JERUSALEM For the second time in a week, Israeli officials apologized yesterday for the accidental killing of Palestinian civilians by the armed forces.
The apologies, however, did not assuage the Palestinians nor a growing number of Israelis troubled by the quick trigger finger displayed by the army in recent weeks, a period when acts of terror have dropped significantly.
According to the newspaper Ha'aretz, 30 of 49 Palestinians killed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in August by the army were unarmed civilians.
To this figure can apparently be added five Palestinian men killed yesterday near an Israeli settlement. Initial indications are that they were innocent workmen returning from a night shift, Israeli radio reported.
"Mistakes are understandable," said Culture Minister Matan Vilnai, himself a former general. "But not when they keep happening like this one after the other."
The apology issued by the army spokeswoman yesterday was for the killing on Saturday in a helicopter strike of two children and two youths in a West Bank village.
The rockets fired by the helicopters were aimed at a car being driven by a man wanted for terror activities. He managed to escape after the first rocket missed the car. Two teenagers youths riding in the car were killed along with a man said to be a member of the Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigade but not the primary target. Two children, aged 6 and 10, were killed by the rocket that missed the car.
Acknowledging the mistake, the spokeswoman said, "We regret the loss of innocent lives."
Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer issued a formal apology last week after a tank, firing at figures approaching an Israeli settlement in the Gaza Strip at night, hit a nearby Palestinian house, killing four members of one family.
"Something very troubling is happening here," wrote Nahum Barnea, Israel's leading political columnist, in the newspaper Yediot Achronot yesterday. He noted that the recent killing of civilians comes at a time that Mr. Ben-Eliezer is attempting, with some success, to reduce the level of violence through talks with Palestinian leaders.
"What's the sense of heating things up again by initiated actions?" he asked. "The Palestinians will respond with a wave of violence, and we will never know whether they were really prepared to stop terror or not."
The killing of innocents as "collateral" victims in the war against terror became an issue last month after the air force dropped a 1-ton bomb on a house in the Gaza Strip to kill the man who headed Israel's terror list.
The target was Salah Shehadeh, who headed Hamas' military wing. Sixteen other persons were killed in the blast along with him, including nine children in neighboring houses.
In an interview over the weekend, Israel's new chief of staff, Gen. Moshe Yaalon, who approved the attack, said that several attempts to kill Shehadeh in the past had been cancelled because of the presence of his wife and children.


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