PM 'deeply distressed' by Gaza deaths

Day after mother, 4 kids killed after IAF strike, Olmert slams Hamas for operating inside civilian areas.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Tuesday expressed "deep distress on behalf of the government and people of Israel," over the "tragic event" Monday in which a mother and four children were killed after an IAF strike in Gaza's Beit Hanun. However, speaking at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, Olmert emphasized that he was also distressed over the constant danger posed to southerners by rocket attacks. "We are also distressed about our children, who for many years have been getting hurt, like the child who lost a leg a few weeks ago," said the prime minister. He was referring to eight-year old Osher Twito, who lost his limb in a Kassam rocket attack on Sderot on February 9. "We are saddened about our civilians who are hurt, and we are saddened that Hamas operates inside civilian areas and exposes [civilians] to events that we are opposed to and that are against our intentions, but events that become unavoidable due to our need to protect the lives of our citizens in the South," said Olmert. "I believe that our sadness is more genuine, honest and painful than that of the terror organizations." "I hope the brutal attacks by the terror groups will stop but I regret that they are continuing," said the prime minister, adding that counter-terror operations will go on. A high-ranking IDF official is set to investigate the Beit Hanun incident and Olmert emphasized that the circumstances were still unclear. Also at the cabinet meeting, Construction and Housing Minister Ze'ev Boim called for the development of a system to distinguish between innocent civilians and those involved in terror. However, he said that not every civilian in Gaza "pulls his hands away from terror." Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai called for an improvement in Israel's hasbara (public advocacy). "The world protests only when Palestinians are hurt, but when Israelis are hurt, there is indifference," he said. Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit said he opposed a truce in Gaza as it would allow Hamas to regroup and rearm. Earlier, Defense Minister Ehud Barak reiterated that Hamas was responsible for the events in the Strip and for the deaths of innocent civilians. "Of course we are not happy about any civilian that gets killed," he stressed. MK Ahmed Tibi said Olmert's remarks did not constitute an apology and were a typical Israeli response to the terrible killing in Gaza. "The killing in Gaza will continue because of the continuation of Israel's aggressive policies and the tolerance to hurting civilians," Israel Radio quoted Tibi as saying. Earlier, Tibi said that Barak was personally responsible for the deaths. "What happened in Gaza is a war crime," Tibi told the radio station. "[Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas isn't responsible, the Palestinians are not responsible for these deaths." "Whoever fires a shell from an aircraft into a civilian area of Gaza is responsible for these terrible deaths and Ehud Barak is personally accountable for this terrible killing," he exclaimed. "It seems that Barak's hands are soiled with blood more than any other person in our region," Tibi continued.