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US Urges Restraint as More Palestinians Killed in Israeli Gaza Offensive  - 2004-10-01

The United States expressed regret Friday over civilian casualties from Israel's ongoing military push in the Gaza Strip, urging it to use only "proportional force" in countering attacks by Palestinian militants.

The State Department reiterated Israel's right to self-defense against terrorist attacks. But at a news briefing Deputy State Department Spokesman Adam Ereli noted with regret reports of civilian casualties in the Israeli incursion into Gaza that began late Tuesday, and called for Israeli restraint in the use of force in the densely populated Palestinian area.

"We urge the government of Israel to take every measure to insure that only proportional force is used to counter the threats it faces," Mr. Ereli says. "We urge Israel to avoid civilian casualties and minimize humanitarian consequences."

Mr. Ereli, who said he was not accusing Israel of deliberately targeting non-combatants, said the reported civilian casualties in Gaza can only make efforts to achieve a durable peace in the Middle East more difficult.

At least seven Palestinians have been killed Friday in the continuing Israeli military push into the Gaza Strip's largest refugee camp, Jabalya.

Five of the seven were killed in two missile strikes. Israeli military officials say the strikes were directed at militants preparing attacks of their own.

Israeli troops and scores of tanks moved into the northern part of Gaza Friday, trying to halt militant rocket attacks on Israel. Government officials indicated the offensive will broaden if the rocket attacks continue.

Palestinian militants later fired makeshift rockets into Sderot in southern Israel. No casualties were reported.

Sderot is where two Israeli children were killed in a Palestinian rocket attack on Wednesday. That attack prompted this latest Israeli offensive.

On Thursday, at least 28 Palestinians were killed along with three Israelis in the Gaza fighting.

Since the start of the Palestinian uprising four years ago this week, some 3,300 Palestinians and 950 Israelis have died in the violence.