Olmert expresses regret, says 'technical error' killed 18 in Gaza
The Israeli artillery barrage that killed 18 civilians in the Gaza Strip as they slept this week was caused by a "technical error," Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Thursday.
He said Wednesday's artillery strike was aimed at an orange grove used by rocket squads in northern Gaza to attack Israel, butmissed its target because of a "technical error."
Olmert expressed regret for the deaths,which have caused outrage among Palestinians, but saidIsrael will continue its military operations in Gaza as long as Palestinian rocket attacks from the region persist.
Israel'sdefence minister, Amir Peretz,has demanded a speedy inquiry intothe malfunction of theaiming devices. He has ordered results by Thursday evening.
After Wednesday's pre-dawn attack, Israeli security forces said they hadreceived more than 80 concrete terror threats. At least six Palestinian rockets were fired into southern Israel on Thursday, they said.
Emotional funerals held in Gaza
Israeli police were on high alert throughout the day as tens of thousands of Palestinians marched through the streets of Gaza for the funerals of those killed in the Beit Hanoun attack.
Gunshots rang out in the air, Palestinian flags waved and people in the crowds called for revenge, shouting, "God is greater than Israel and America."
Led by a procession of ambulances, Palestinian mourners carried the bodies on stretchers from hospital morgues to the victims' homes for funeral prayers.
A cemetery under construction in Beit Hanoun was hastily opened to accommodate the victims, because no other cemetery in town had enough land to allow them to be buried together.
The victims were all members of a single extended family, asleep in their beds when the artillery bombardment began on Wednesday.
Palestinian leaders have declared three days of mourning throughout the Palestinian territories.
Israeli inquiry called
The militant group Hamas, which forms a shaky Palestinian government, has threatened to resume attacks inside Israel as a result of Wednesday's deaths. Hamas supreme leader Khaled Mashaal declared an end to a 21-month-old ceasefire with Israel.
The number of Palestinian civilian deaths in Wednesday's barrage was the highest of any incident in six years of fighting, and undermined Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's attempts to form a more moderate government and renew peace talks with Israel.
As reaction to the civilian deaths shifted from sadness to anger, violentdemonstrations broke out across the West Bank and Gaza Wednesday and into Thursday. Palestinians clashed with police in Hebron, Jenin, Bethlehem and East Jerusalem.
Hamas's military wing also called for attacks against American targets— an appeal that Hamas political leaders in Gaza did not endorse.
U.S. President George W. Bush called for restraint on all sides.
The United Nations Security Council was to meet in a special session Thursday. Palestinians hoped for a condemnation of Israel, on top of the denunciations Israel absorbed from governments worldwide after the attack.
With files from the Associated Press