The Israeli government said yesterday it would continue its bombardment of northern Gaza with an estimated 300 shells a day despite international criticism over the death of an eight-year old girl in her home.
Shaul Mofaz, the defence minister who is touring Israel’s borders with Gaza, said: "As long as it’s not quiet here [in Israel], it won’t be quiet there [in Gaza]."
Israeli forces have been firing shells close to Palestinian communities to stop militants from firing rockets at Israeli communities. The army continued to bombard the outskirts of Beit Lahiya yesterday, but Palestinian militants fired their homemade missiles from different residential areas, which they believe are safe from Israeli reprisals.
Kim Howells, the Foreign Office minister, condemned the killing of the girl, Hadeel Ghabeen, whose home in Beit Lahiya was hit by two shells on Monday, and asked the Israeli government to exercise maximum restraint.
"Israel has the right to defend itself, but any actions in the occupied territories must be proportionate and in accordance with international law. Equally, we urge the Palestinian Authority to take steps to halt all attacks launched at Israeli targets from the Gaza Strip," he said.
Ghabeen, believed to be aged between four and 12, was the 15th Palestinian to be killed in Gaza since Friday in shell and air attacks. Israel has been firing about 300 shells a day at Gaza at an estimated cost of more than £125,000 a day, according to the Israeli media.
Palestinian militants have fired about 50 missiles at Israel in the past month without causing serious injury.
Yesterday the residents of Al Nader towers, the highest point in northern Gaza, were nervously watching the one-sided artillery duel. Israeli artillery announced itself with a low thud in the east followed by the overhead whistle of a shell.
People hunched their shoulders for protection but then saw an eruption of dust in the valley half a mile below and to the west, followed by a noise like a thunder clap. The Israelis were targeting a field between Beit Lahiya and the sewage works.
Those watching admired the accuracy of the Israeli gunners as shell after shell landed within metres of the last.
As groups of young men watched the spectacle, women put out washing and trucks arrived to sell cucumbers and tomatoes for 5 shekels (60p) a box. The vegetables are normally sold for export via Israel for 78 shekels (£10), but when the goods terminal is closed they have to be sold at a price that Gazans can afford.
Then a sudden scream emerged from behind the towers and a Palestinian rocket headed towards Israel. Its vapour trail disappeared in seconds and it did not seem to make its destination. The streets quickly cleared. No one had seen who fired it but no one was going to wait for an Israeli response. A Red Cross vehicle waited nearby for permission from the Israelis to see what damage they had caused.
Abdel Rahim Ghanaim, 48, runs a shop at the edge of what is considered the safe part of Beit Lahiya. He and his extended family have spent the past two weeks sleeping outside their home in the hope that will protect them from Israeli shells. Mr Ghanaim said: "We are not sleeping and during the day there is no business. No one is passing here so no one is buying."
Said Judah, director of the Beit Lahiya Hospital, said that apart from Monday, when the young girl was killed and 12 members of her family injured, he had received about five minor casualties a day. "It is not like the days of the Israeli incursions but it is very damaging for people psychologically."
* this article was reprinted from the Guardian UK