Gillerman to 'Post': This is not a watershed moment.
By TOVAH LAZAROFF
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's apology for the accidental artillery attack in Gaza that killed 19 civilians early Wednesday morning did not stem the flood of international condemnations against Israel.
The European Union said it was "appalled at the continued killing of civilians" and United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan called it "shocking."
While most of the condemnations also included a call for Palestinians in Gaza to halt their rocket attacks against Israel, the harshest language was reserved for Israel.
As of press time, the United Nations Security Council in New York planned to hold a special public session on the incident on Thursday.
Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations Dan Gillerman told The Jerusalem Post he believed the condemnations would be short-lived.
"Some of the Hamas leadership is probably rejoicing; this is exactly what they wanted to happen. They want the tide to turn against Israel," said Gillerman. But that is not what is happening here, he added.
"This is not a watershed moment," said Gillerman. "People realize that Israel is at the forefront of the war against terror that is being fought all over the world."
The international community, he said, was wise enough to understand that "this is an isolated horrible mistake." In contrast, Palestinian UN observer Riyad Mansour said he hoped the international community would formally condemn Israel through a resolution that has been penned by Qatar. It would call for a cease-fire, the withdrawal of the IDF from Gaza and the deployment of UN observers on the Israeli-Gaza border.
"The Israeli occupying forces have committed another massacre this morning in Beit Hanun...," Mansour said.
"The Security Council has to react and to react immediately in order to stop this aggression and these crimes against the Palestinian people."
Qatar, the only Arab nation on the Security Council, had asked for an emergency council meeting already on Monday to stop Israeli military actions on the northern Gaza border.
Gillerman said it was unlikely that the UN would issue a condemnation, nor did he believe that the incident would mar next Monday's meeting between Olmert and US President George Bush in Washington, D.C.
"These condemnations are part of a great misunderstanding around the world about what is happening," said Gillerman. When Israel left Gaza 15 months ago with no intention of returning, the Palestinians could have chosen to stop terrorizing Israel and to focus on managing their own affairs, he said. Instead they continued to fire rockets into southern Israel, launching 300 rockets in the last month.
"I think George Bush understands exactly what the war on terror means when he sees incidents like this," said Gillerman. "War is a dirty business and during war ugly things happen. But this will not in any way change his attitude toward the prime minister of Israel," said Gillerman.
But the United Kingdom was less understanding.
"It is hard to see what this action was meant to achieve and how it can be justified," said the United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said the incident came about as part of Israel's actions in defense of its citizens.
"Israel is faced with constant attack by the Palestinian terror organizations, in the form of relentless firing of Kassam rockets at Israeli population centers. Unfortunately, in the course of battle, regrettable incidents such as that which occurred this morning do happen."
Within hours after the attack, Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz offered immediate medical and humanitarian assistance to the wounded, including allowing them to be evacuated into Egypt through the Rafah crossing.
Peretz ordered an immediate halt to artillery fire and investigation into the incident. A preliminary report will be drawn up by Thursday night and may even be made public.
Speaking in Sderot on Wednesday night, Peretz said, "We see how high a price war exacts. But we can't force each other to give in." Peretz said that the difference between the IDF and Palestinian terrorists is that while terrorists see harm caused to civilians as a successful operation, the IDF tries its best to limit civilian casualties.
He called on the Palestinians to invest in schools and factories, rather than in weapons. "Let's sit together, and free people from their [mutual] fear," he said. Nevertheless, Peretz cautioned, Israel would not "cave to terrorism."
But while an official in his bureau said that Peretz was trying to "calm" the diplomatic waters, the IDF on Wednesday night killed two terrorists in Gaza, including the head of a rocket unit.
Hamas leader-in-exile Khaled Mashaal warned earlier Wednesday that Palestinians would respond to an IDF artillery bombardment that killed 19 civilians with "deeds, not words." Mashaal said that a truce with Israel was over and appealed to all Palestinian factions to resume attacks.
AP contributed to this report.
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