JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel’s military said on Friday it was investigating “harm caused to civilians” from an air strike it carried out in Gaza that Palestinian medics said killed eight members of one family including five children.
It was the single deadliest incident in two days of hostilities between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip this week during which 34 Palestinians were killed, almost half of them civilians, according to Palestinian officials.
Islamic Jihad and Israel declared a halt to fighting across Gaza on Thursday but a lasting ceasefire appeared tenuous as they differed on terms.
Israel triggered the exchange of fire by killing the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad’s top Gaza commander in an air strike, deeming him an imminent threat. Militants responded with a barrage of hundreds of rockets into Israel, forcing entire communities to take shelter. Dozens of Israelis were injured but there were no reports of fatalities.
On Thursday, in the final hours before the Egyptian-mediated truce took hold, residents and medical workers said an Israeli missile struck and destroyed a house in Dir al-Balah, killing eight of the family members inside.
An Israeli military spokeswoman said on Friday that Israeli forces had hit what she described as an “Islamic Jihad military infrastructure” in the central Gaza town on Thursday morning.
“According to the information available to the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] at the time of the strike, no civilians were expected to be harmed as a result of the strike,” she said.
She added: “The IDF is investigating the harm caused to civilians by the strike.”
In the hours after the attack relatives and nearby residents said that all the dead were civilians. However, Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Avichay Adraee said Rasmi Abu Malhous, the head of the family and among the dead, was the commander of Islamic Jihad rocket crews in central Gaza.
Reuters could not immediately verify Adraee’s assertion. Islamic Jihad did not comment on whether Malhous was a member, but a spokesman accused the Israelis of “targeting innocent civilians sleeping in their home”.
The Al Mezan Center For Human Rights in Gaza condemned what it called Israel’s “continued military escalation” against the densely populated coastal enclave, calling for pressure on Israel to “refrain from this long-established practice that has caused severe harm to civilian life and property”.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier in the week that Israel, having killed the Islamic Jihad commander, was not interested in a broader conflict but would respond to every attack “with a very sharp attack and response”.
Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Mark Heinrich