Israel expressed regret Thursday for the deaths of four Palestinian civilians in an army shelling, an attack that jeopardized shaky steps toward reducing tensions in the Gaza Strip.
But violence continued, with Israeli soldiers shooting to death Abdel Hadi Hamayda, a 12-year-old Palestinian, in the Gaza-Egyptian border town of Rafah, Palestinians said. Residents said Israeli forces opened fire after children threw rocks and bottles at Israeli tanks that were tearing down structures. The Israeli military said it returned fire after Palestinians fired rifles and threw hand grenades, firebombs and rocks.
In the West Bank city of Nablus, Israeli forces entered the Palestinian government headquarters and set off explosives, a witness said. Residents said they heard an explosion throughout the city, and witnesses said part of the three-story, fortress-like building was destroyed, including the office of the governor, Mahmoud Aloul, who was not in the building at the time. No casualties were reported.
On Aug. 18, Israel and the Palestinians agreed on a plan to turn security over to the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Bethlehem as a test case for Palestinians' resuming responsibility for security in areas Israel took over after a series of suicide bombings. The Bethlehem hand-over took place two days later, but there has been no movement in Gaza.
Talks over implementation of the Gaza agreement had already stalled before Israeli shells fell on a Bedouin encampment early Thursday near the Jewish settlement of Netzarim, killing a mother, her two grown sons and another relative.
Furious Palestinians charged that Israel was trying to sabotage peace efforts, and Hamas militants threatened revenge. Israel defended its actions but expressed regret.
Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer ordered an inquiry. "I'm deeply sorry about what happened, but you have to understand that our forces are involved in a battlefield situation," he said.
The Israeli military said soldiers opened fire on suspicious figures crawling toward an Israeli army post. But the statement it released also said, "The Israeli military expresses regret over casualties among innocent civilians."
Palestinians rejected the explanation, saying the Israeli tanks aimed their shells at the last two structures still standing in the Sheik Iljeen encampment.
Elsewhere Thursday, Hezbollah guerrillas shelled Israeli positions in the disputed Shabaa Farms area on the border with Lebanon, wounding three soldiers and drawing fire from Israeli warplanes and artillery, according to military sources. There were no immediate reports of Lebanese casualties.