Israeli aircraft missed their target in Gaza for the second time in two days, crashing into a house and killing two Palestinian civilians, intensifying international criticism of the army's policy of striking militants from the air.
Wednesday's missile was aimed at militants in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, but instead landed in the center of a dinner table, where a family was gathered for a meal honoring a relative visiting from Saudi Arabia.
The visitor, Zakaria Ahmed, 45, was killed along with his pregnant sister, Fatma Abdel Khader, 35. Thirteen others, including five children, were wounded, hospital officials said.
The botched strike came a day after three Palestinians were killed in another Israeli attack gone wrong, adding to a list of bloody incidents in which civilians have been killed.
UN urges halt
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for a halt on the pinpoint attacks that harm civilians, appealing to Israel "to respect international law and to ensure that its actions are proportionate and do not put civilians at grave risk."
Annan's statement also urged the Palestinian Authority to do everything in its power to stop rocket attacks on Israeli towns, the army's reason for the recent air strikes in Gaza.
But Major General Eliezer Shakedi, the Israeli air force commander, said the strikes would continue. The increasing number of errors are largely due to more militant activity in densely populated areas, Shakedi said.
"We have to make a great effort to try everything possible to avoid hitting civilians," Shakedi told Israel's Army Radio. "We have to fight terrorism and we are doing it ... this is more or less the central alternative, the most accurate and the best possible alternative without entering a broad and very significant [ground] operation."
The botched air raids overshadowed the first tentative move toward renewed peace negotiations following the militant Islamic Hamas victory in parliamentary elections last January.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas were to attend a breakfast in the ancient Jordanian town of Petra yesterday hosted by Jordan's King Abdullah ll. Efforts to get the two leaders to sit down together separately appeared doomed in the wake of the latest violence.
In Wednesday's air strike, Fatma Abdel Khader, 35, was killed in her house, along with her brother, Zakaria Ahmed, 45, visiting from Saudi Arabia.
The missile blew a hole in a wall of the one-story concrete block shack. A pool of blood covered part of the kitchen floor of the stricken house.
Militants run away
A witness said a car carrying Palestinian militants passed the house as the missile struck. They jumped from the car and ran into a nearby field.
A senior air force officer, speaking on condition of anonymity under military regulations, said the missile missed its target by several dozen meters.
Israel says that its strikes are aimed at militants involved in daily rocket fire from Gaza against Israeli towns. The high civilian toll is stirring a debate inside Israel, with critics saying the airstrikes serve only to inflame militant passions.
Targeting rocket launchers in crowded Gaza is particularly problematical during the summer, when tens of thousands of children play in the streets.
A statement released by Abbas' office harshly condemned the Israeli attacks.
"The increased frequency of women and children falling victims to Israeli missiles, in an age of very precise electronic warfare, indicates a deliberate intention on the Israeli part to target every Palestinian and to cause maximum human, physical and psychological damage," it said.
* Wednesday's missile strike by Israel marked the second botched attack in two days.
* In the first attack, three civilians were killed; in the second attack, two civilians died.
* The UN called for a halt to Israel's pinpoint attacks.
* The Israeli military said the missile strikes targeting militants were its ``best possible alternative.''
* The high civilian toll is prompting debate in Israel, with critics saying the strikes are counterproductive.
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