BEIT HANOUN, Gaza (Reuters) - Israeli artillery shells killed 18 Palestinian civilians in northern Gaza on Wednesday, local officials and witnesses said, prompting swift vows of retaliation from militant groups.
It was the deadliest single Israeli attack on Palestinians in four years.
"We saw legs, we saw heads, we saw hands scattered in the street," said Attaf Hamad, 22, in Beit Hanoun, a town in the northern Gaza Strip that has been a launching ground for Palestinian militants' rocket attacks on Israel.
Later, Israeli aircraft bombarded Gaza City, killing two militants, a Palestinian security source and witnesses said.
The shelling was condemned across Europe and the Middle East. But an initial response by the United States stopped short of reprimanding Israel, whose prime minister, Ehud Olmert, is due to meet President George W. Bush in Washington on Monday.
The European Union said it was "appalled by the continuing killing of civilians" in Gaza and urged both sides to show restraint. The Organization of the Islamic Conference, the world's largest Islamic body, accused Israel of war crimes.
Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz ordered an inquiry, and a halt to shelling in Gaza until it was complete. The ministry said he would receive its findings on Thursday.
Some of the dead were killed in bed as shells struck seven houses, and others rushed outside but found no safety........continued
( you know, my ex wife is jewish. that makes my 4 daughters jewish by birth, although they have since "converted " to christianity, or atheism, or whatever.
i have always been a supporter for israel's right to exist, but as more and more civilians become targets for shelling and air strikes, i am becoming angrier and angrier at a terrorist regime that claims the high road while killing 18 innocents in order to get 1 terrorist. )