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Israeli army accused of killing five Palestinian children with booby-trap

AFP - Calls rose for a probe into the deaths of five Palestinian children in an explosion in the Gaza Strip after reports that they were killed by a booby-trap laid by the Israeli army.
Israeli army accused of killing five children with booby-trap

- AFP Wire

Calls rose for a probe into the deaths of five Palestinian children in an explosion in the Gaza Strip after reports that they were killed by a booby-trap laid by the Israeli army.

The daily Maariv said Friday, quoting military sources, that the bomb was placed a week ago by special forces seeking to kill Palestinian militants who were firing mortar bombs from the area at Israeli targets.

Israeli public radio said an unidentified senior military official had called for an inquiry into the blast, and Transport Minister Ephraim Sneh, who was deputy defence minister in the previous government, also urged an investigation.

"The deaths of five children are not to be taken lightly," he told the radio. "An inquiry must be held and the army must give explanations."

Left-wing opposition leader Yossi Sarid of the Meretz party accused Israel's military spokesman of concealing the facts, by saying only that the army had fired no shells on Thursday.

The device, said at the time to have been an unexploded tank shell, exploded Thursday when one of a group of five children kicked it on the way to school in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip.

The report was expected to inflame Palestinian anger ahead of the burial of the children, all of them from the same clan, later Friday after prayers.

The incident broke a period of relative calm which had fuelled hopes following US Secretary of State Colin Powell's announcement of a revival of Washington's efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Speaking at the University of Louisville, in Kentucky, Powell said Monday the Palestinians must make a "100 percent effort to end violence and to end terror" directed at Israel.

But Powell also had sharp words for Israel, calling on the government to recognise the pain caused by its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Srip and to end its presence there.

Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs William Burns and retired Marine Corps general Anthony Zinni are to depart for the Middle East on Sunday.

An opinion poll published Friday showed that the calm since the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan a week ago had softened Israeli public opinion.

The Gallup poll in the daily Maariv gave a majority of 59 percent of those questioned in favour of an independent Palestinian state, against 36 percent against and five percent undecided.

And 55 percent said the government should make more effort to win a peace settlement, against 20 percent who wanted total war on the Palestinian Authority and 19 percent who preferred no change, while seven percent had no opinion.

Two weeks ago 26 percent of Israelis favoured all-out war by hardline Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government on the Palestinians.

The US initiative has been generally welcomed by both sides, as well as by a number of Arab states.

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said he was "very much encouraged" in an interview with the New York Times published Friday.

He also hoped that progress in the Middle East would help soothe anti-American feelings in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries that had made them a fertile environment for terrorism.



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