For those who, like myself, were hopeful that Yasser Arafat's death would lead to the peace between the Palestinians and Israelis, this must come as a disappointment.
BEIT LAHIYA, Gaza Strip (Reuters) - Moderate Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas called Israel "the Zionist enemy" for the first time on Tuesday after an Israeli tank killed seven Palestinian youths in a Gaza strawberry field.
The words were certain to stir concerns in Israel where images of Abbas embracing fighters during the campaign for a Jan. 9 election have led some to question hopes for reviving peace talks after Yasser Arafat's death.
The Israeli army said it had targeted militants who had crept into the strawberry field and fired mortar bombs into a nearby Jewish settlement in the occupied territory.
Palestinian witnesses and medics in Beit Lahiya, a north Gaza village, said the militants had vanished by the time the tank shell crashed and all the dead were youths aged 11-17 from two farming families. Four people were critically wounded.
The field, where farmers had been harvesting strawberries, was spattered with blood and body parts.
Word of the incident clearly angered Abbas, widely tipped to win the presidential election, as he continued campaigning in the Gaza Strip despite further fighting between militants and the Israeli army.
"We are praying for the souls of our martyrs who fell today to the shells of the Zionist enemy," Abbas told a rally in the south Gaza refugee camp of Khan Younis, a hotbed of militants.
Reuters leaves the impression that these were innocent Palestinian by-standers who were tragically killed. Presenting only the Palestinian version of events, Reuters conveniently leaves out the Israeli side of the incident. But the Jerusalem Post presents the Israeli version of events. (From LGF)
At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Col. Avi Levi, commander of the Gaza District, said that seven Hamas members were killed in Beit Lahiya this morning.
Levi defended the IDF's decision to fire a tank shell at the rocket-launching cells. "If civilians were wounded, it is because terrorists opt to launch attacks from within the civilian population and we regret the harming of any civilians."
The army also confirmed that the tank fired toward Beit Lahiya, a town located in the northern Gaza Strip not far from Erez, when it identified the Hamas cell. Col. Levi said that six of the deaths were caused by shrapnel from the tank shell and two Palestinian terrorists died when a Kassam rocket they were trying to launch exploded prematurely.
How's that for perspective? But, Reuters isn't finished. The article also manages to portray Abbas in a sympathetic light.
Israel also demands Palestinian leaders heed a provision in an internationally sponsored "road map" peace plan for a crackdown on militants before talks begin.
Palestinian leaders demand Israel obey a parallel obligation under the road map to stop expanding West Bank settlements and Abbas has balked at tackling gunmen he calls "freedom fighters" without an Israeli promise of viable Palestinian statehood.
"They are freedom fighters and should live a dignified and safe life," Abbas said on Monday in a campaign tailored in part to defuse the distrust of gunmen who branded him a stooge of Israel when their revered ex-guerrilla leader Arafat was alive.
Abbas said he was determined to ensure rule of law prevailed in Palestinian territories, a cautionary message to militants and one of reassurance to U.S.-led mediators encouraged by his credo of non-violence.
How can calling Israel "the Zionist enemy," hailing these thugs as "freedom fighters" and refusing to confront their violent actions be called a "credo of non-violence"? Reuters makes it sound like he's just campaigning and this is empty campaign rhetoric. Rhetoric that Abbas will not act upon it when he is elected. Only, this campaign rhetoric fuels more violence which, in turn, leads to more deaths.
UPDATE: Reuters has video.
UPDATE II: More commentary on Abbas from Damian Penny and Michael Totten.