An excerpt from Peter Beaumont's chilling article in today's Observer:
Israeli military commanders drastically reduced the 'safety' margins that separate artillery targets from the built-up civilian areas of Gaza earlier this year, despite being warned that the new policy risked increasing Palestinian civilian deaths and injuries, The Observer can reveal. The warning, delivered in Israel's high court by six human rights groups, came after the Israeli Defence Force reduced the so-called 'safety range' in Gaza from a 300-metre separation from built-up areas to just 100 metres - within the kill radius of its 155mm high-explosive shells, generally regarded as being between 50 and 150 metres.
Disclosure of the new shelling policy, which went largely unnoted at the time, has emerged in international outcry over the latest artillery incident by Israeli gunners shelling Gaza - the killing of 19 members of an extended family in the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. It was the highest Palestinian civilian toll in a single incident since the current conflict erupted in September 2000. The deaths were caused when what witnesses described as a volley of tank shells hit a built-up civilian area.
The revelation follows reports that the shelling of Gaza has continued despite the recent recognition by senior Israeli military officers, including the head of the IDF's Southern Command, that indirect artillery fire (ie, firing without seeing the target) was largely pointless in countering Palestinian rocket fire.
Meanwhile, an editorial Thursday in The Independent, London pointed out that Wednesday "was one of the most tragic days in Gaza for many years." "At least 18 Palestinian civilians, 10 of them children, were killed when Israel tanks shelled blocks of flats in the town of Beit Hanoun. A further 60 people were wounded. The Israeli army says the shelling was accidental and has launched an inquiry. But the damage has been done. In the eyes of most Palestinians, this was a war crime. The response of the Syrian-based Hamas leader, Khaled Mashaal was to declare the official ceasefire with Israel over."
"...Great damage has been inflicted on the Palestinian people since the Israeli army returned to Gaza in June. A United Nations report Wednesday outlined how homes and farms have been destroyed arbitrarily by the Israeli military. The bombing of the strip's power generator has prevented hospitals from functioning properly. The already-ailing economy has collapsed entirely under a fierce blockade."
"Israel claims its objective is to put an end to the volleys of crude Qassam rockets being fired from Gaza into Israel by Palestinian militants. Yet these rockets - though deplorable - have killed a very small number of Israelis in the past six years. So wildly disproportionate has been the Israeli response that it seems hard to believe this is not a collective punishment for the Gaza population for electing a Hamas government in January."
"Whatever the truth, Israel's policy is dangerously counter-productive. There is no evidence that these operations have substantially disrupted the firing of rockets. Nor is this pressure turning Gazans away from Hamas. And yet, even after this latest tragedy, the Israeli government vows to persist with the same heavy-handed tactics."
"This is symptomatic of a drift in Israeli politics. Prime Minister olmert has been gravey weakened by the disastrous invasion of Lebanon. And he has shown consistently poor judgement. Instead of pushing ahead with talks with the moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas - something that would have helped to force the hand of Hamas - he has invited the far-right demagogue, Avigdor Lieberman into his cabinet. Meanwhile his progressive manifesto promise of withdrawing from the West Bank appears to have been dropped. The punishment of Gaza is a failing policy being pursued by a failing administration. And it can only ultimately deliver more carnage..."