Israeli artillery shells killed 18 civilians in a town in northern Gaza yesterday, the deadliest strike in the territory in four years, Palestinian officials and witnesses said.
"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.
Some of the dead were killed in bed as shells struck seven houses, and others rushed outside, finding no safety.
Thirteen members of one extended family were killed and the dead included seven children and four women, residents and the Palestinian Health Ministry said. About 60 people were wounded, the ministry added.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas described the killings as an "ugly massacre." A senior Hamas official urged Palestinians to attack inside Israel in response, and the Islamic Jihad group vowed to carry out suicide bombings.
Hamas' armed wing, decrying Washington's "political and financial support" for Israel, appeared to call on Palestinians to attack US targets, urging them in a statement "to teach the American enemy harsh lessons."
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said he and Defense Minister Amir Peretz "voiced regret over the deaths of Palestinian civilians ... and offered emergency humanitarian aid to the Palestinian Authority and medical care for the wounded."