Israel apologises for killing mother and teenage daughter


MIDDLE EAST: Israel troops shot dead three Palestinian civilians over the weekend, and apologised for what it said were tragic errors, in the course of a series of troop incursions into Palestinian areas designed to thwart attacks on Israeli targets.

Soldiers moved into Tulkarm, Qalkilya and Bethlehem in the West Bank, and parts of the Gaza Strip, made a series of arrests, and then pulled back, in incursions on a far smaller scale than last month's "Operation Defensive Shield" onslaught.

The Chief of Staff, Gen Shaul Mofaz, said more such incursions were expected, as the army acted on intelligence information regarding preparations for further suicide bombings. "We won't stay for long," said Gen Mofaz, outlining a policy in marked contrast to his championing of April's month-long operation. The protracted presence of the army in Palestinian areas, he said, "causes damage".

The army issued an official apology for the killings, in Gaza on Saturday, of a 42-year-mother and her 13-year-old daughter, who were shot while working in a field.

Saying that the pair had been identified as "suspicious figures" inside a "prohibited area" near the Gaza border fence, from where it said several attacks on Israeli targets had been launched recently, the army said it was investigating the incident and expressed "deep sorrow".

Another Palestinian civilian, a 55-year-old man, was killed by Israeli gunfire in Tulkarm yesterday morning, Palestinian sources said. An Israeli reservist, shot dead in a gunfight on Friday, was buried yesterday. Underlining the current panicky mood about suicide bombers inside Israel, soldiers accidentally lightly wounded a young Israeli man who had attracted a bus driver's suspicions merely by paying for his fare with a large bill and whose failure to respond to the driver's questions was due to the fact that he was a deaf-mute.

Aides to the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr Ariel Sharon, claim that the army has thwarted 30 attempted suicide bombings this month, and Gen Mofaz asserted yesterday that as long as Mr Yasser Arafat led the Palestinian Authority, all talk of reform there was meaningless. Mr Arafat is said by aides to be ready to streamline his security agencies, perhaps as soon as this week, in the face of criticism led by Israel, and backed by the US, over what is deemed his failure to stop the bombings.