JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel’s military released video footage on Friday which it said showed that accidentally detonated Palestinian munitions, rather than direct Israeli fire, killed a Gazan woman and four of her children this week.
Residents of Beit Hanoun, a town in the northern Gaza Strip, insisted that the April 28 deaths were caused by an Israeli tank shell or air force missile fired at Myassar Abu Meateq’s home.
An unrelated Palestinian described by hospital officials as a 17-year-old student was killed outdoors in the same incident. Another Palestinian of about the same age was wounded.
Publishing the conclusions of an internal investigation along with black-and-white footage from a surveillance drone, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) spokesman said that during fighting in Beit Hanoun the air force twice fired missiles at Palestinian gunmen “carrying backpacks loaded with ammunition” near the home.
“One gunman was targeted and hit from the air. As a result a strong secondary explosion occurred,” the spokesman said in a statement.
“The second gunman was targeted and hit as well, causing an even bigger explosion ... Both explosions were significantly stronger than those caused by the IDF attacks against them.”
The first clip of high-angle footage tracks two figures walking on a road. A caption describes them as gunmen, though weapons cannot clearly be seen. An explosion envelopes the two, followed by a second, slightly bigger blast moments later.
The second clip shows a figure lying outside a building that a caption marks as the Abu Meateq home. A big and sustained explosion takes place, its flames reaching into the building.
A caption says that this “larger explosion” was “most likely caused by the setting off of weaponry carried by the terrorist”. Another caption says that the Israeli missile that set off the blast was aimed at the centre of the street.
“The possibility that the family was hit by other IDF fire was eliminated since this was the only incident recorded that day in which attacks were carried out in the area,” the spokesman’s statement said.
Hamas and Abu Meateq’s neighbors denied that Palestinian gunmen were operating near the home during the Israeli attacks.
The Palestinian faction Islamic Jihad said one of its gunmen was killed by Israeli forces elsewhere in northern Gaza. Another Palestinian militant was shot dead later in the day.
The killing of Abu Meateq and the four siblings — whose ages ranged from 1-1/2 to 5 years old — dealt a blow to Egyptian bids to broker a Gaza truce between Hamas and Israel.
Hamas deplored the deaths as a “war crime” and fired short-range rockets across the border in retaliation. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he was “deeply sorry” about the deaths but blamed Hamas fighters for operating among civilians.
Ibrahim Abu Meateq, a half-brother of the four slain children, dismissed the Israeli military’s findings as a lie.
“We knew they were not going to treat us fairly. Other families have been eliminated before and they didn’t take responsibility,” he told Reuters, referring to the high civilian toll from past Israeli raids on Gaza.
Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Avida Landau in Jerusalem, Editing by Giles Elgood