BEIT HANOUN, Gaza Strip – Hamas’ exiled leader on Wednesday called off a cease-fire with Israel and militants threatened to attack Americans after 18 members of a family, including eight children, were killed in an Israeli artillery barrage on a densely populated Gaza neighborhood.
It was the highest number of Palestinian civilians killed in a single strike since fighting erupted six years ago, and undermined Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s attempts to form a more moderate government and renew a peace process with Israel.
Abbas condemned the “terrible, despicable crime,” and the international community criticized the deaths. Israel, promising a swift inquiry, expressed regret for harming civilians.
The shelling occurred early Wednesday as residents were sleeping in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, the focus of a weeklong military offensive aimed at stopping rocket fire. Israeli troops had pulled out of the town just 24 hours earlier, and the rocket attacks resumed almost immediately.
The Israeli shells landed around a compound of four apartment buildings on a small side street. The explosions left holes in the buildings, owned by four brothers from the al-Athamna family, and sent panicked residents scurrying outside. Additional salvos landed, hitting the people and flooding a dusty alleyway in a pool of blood.
“Shells were fired directly onto the people who were rushing out of the house,” said Akram al-Athamna, a relative of the victims. “There was blood everywhere.”