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Israeli Gaza Attack Kills 18, Including Children

Israeli artillery fire kills 18 Palestinians, including at least 7 children, in the Gaza Strip early Wednesday. The shelling on Beit Hanoun came less than 24 hours after Israeli forces ended a ground offensive in the area.

Israeli officials voiced regret for the civilian casualties, and said the artillery fire was aimed at Palestinian rocket launchers. Several militant groups in Gaza vow to retaliate with suicide bombings.

Witnesses and medical officials in Gaza say Israeli artillery shells struck a residential area near Beit Hanoun in the early morning hours, while many people were still asleep. The Palestinian health ministry says all of those killed were from the el Atamla family, including eight children and four women. 50 others were wounded, including 26 children.

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Nearly 300 Palestinians, about half of them armed militants, have been killed in Gaza since Israel launched a series of operations in late June after militants attacked an Israeli border post. The attackers killed two soldiers and captured 20-year-old Israeli Army Cpl. Gilad Shalit.

Militant cells in Gaza have launched more than 800 makeshift rockets at Israel in 2006. The rockets have damaged property and caused some injuries. No Israelis have been killed this year by the Gaza rocket fire.

Responding to the Palestinian deaths, Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisen says the country's army has suspended artillery fire into Gaza while it investigates what she called a tragedy. But Eisen says much of the blame lies with militants who continue to launch rockets -- more of them came Wednesday.

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