International and local media outlets on Monday prominently covered the deaths of at least seven Palestinians - including a mother and four of her children - whom Hamas sources claimed were killed when an Israeli artillery shell hit a house in the northern Gaza Strip.
The media made no visible effort to verify the claim, and nearly all English-language press ignored an Israeli army statement carried by Israel Radio and Army Radio explaining that there had been no artillery fire in the immediate area.
Army officials said that according to reports from the field, the civilian deaths occurred when terrorists wearing backpacks filled when ammunition used the house as cover during a firefight with Israeli troops. The ammunition exploded after being hit by Israeli fire, killing seven people and wounding six others.
Sticking to its own version of the story, Hamas forces fired at least 10 missiles at communities in southern Israel on Monday in retaliation for the alleged Israeli atrocity. One of the missile scored a direct hit on a house in Sderot, while a second landed just yards from a school in the hard-hit southern Israel town.
The other rockets all landed in open areas. No injuries were reported in any of the attacks.
Meanwhile, Israeli officials told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that Israel is under increasing pressure from Washington to reach a ceasefire with Hamas prior to US President George W. Bush's arrival in the region on May 14.
Bush is coming to the region to participate in Israel's 60th anniversary celebrations and to give a push to his vision to see the birth of a Palestinian Arab state by the end of the year. Officials said Bush is not interested in having violence in and around Gaza interrupting his efforts to accelerate talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
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