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Olmert Apologizes for Civilian Deaths
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Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert apologized Thursday for the deaths of Palestinian civilians in recent Israeli army airstrikes after meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at an informal breakfast in Jordan.

Some 13 Palestinian civilians have been killed in Israeli airstrikes in the past week, including two people in a Gaza house on Wednesday and three children in Gaza on Tuesday.

Olmert said he felt "deep regret for the death of innocent Palestinians."

"It is against our policy and I am very, very sorry," he added.

Olmert did not mention a June 9 beach explosion in which another eight Palestinian civilians were killed. Palestinians blame Israel for that incident, but Israel has denied responsibility.

Maj. Gen. Eliezer Shakedi, the Israeli air force commander, said in Israel, however, that the airstrikes would continue. The increasing number of errors were largely due to more militant activity in densely populated areas, he said.

"We have to make a great effort to try everything possible to avoid hitting civilians," he told Israel's Army Radio.

"We have to fight terrorism and we are doing it," he said, adding that the airstrikes were "the most accurate and the best possible option without launching a broad and very significant (ground) operation."

Olmert and Abbas had breakfast with Jordan's King Abdullah II in the ancient Jordanian town of Petra -- the first meeting between top Israeli and Palestinian leaders in a year. After the informal get-together, they pledged to meet again within weeks.

The two leaders shook hands, embraced and kissed each other on the cheek. Asked about his handshake with Olmert, Abbas said, "It was very warm, very warm."

(Chinadaily.com via agencies June 23, 2006)

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