JERUSALEM - The Israeli military on Tuesday said it has wrapped up an investigation into an airstrike that killed nine members of a Palestinian family in the Gaza Strip. The report claims the targeted house had been used by Islamic militants but also admitted it didn’t expect the strike to result in civilian casualties.
The Nov. 14 airstrike in the central Gaza town of Deir al-Balah came in the closing hours of a fierce two-day burst of fighting between Israel and the Islamic Jihad militant group. Without warning, the overnight Israeli strike destroyed the house, killing nine members of the extended Abu Malhous family, including two women and five children under the age of 13.
In a statement, the military said its investigation found the building had served as a “military compound” used by Islamic Jihad. It said that military intelligence had approved the target last June, and that intelligence updates determined the home was used for military purposes in the days before and during the November fighting.
“The review also concluded that when planning and carrying out the attack, it was estimated in the IDF that civilians would not be harmed as a result of an attack,” the army said. It said its review included recommendations “with the aim of reducing, as much as possible, the recurrence of similar irregular events.”
Mohammed Abu Malhous, 19, who lost his parents and three siblings in the airstrike, rejected the findings.
“Why are they not going to punish those who are responsible?” he told The Associated Press. “They are liars ... Our house is well known in the area and we have lived in it for the past 15 years.”
The incident has raised new questions about Israeli tactics in Gaza.
Since the Hamas militant group seized control of Gaza, Israel has fought three wars and numerous skirmishes against armed groups in the territory.
Hundreds of Palestinian civilians have been killed by Israeli fire over the years, drawing heavy criticism of Israeli battlefield practices and accusations from Palestinian and international human rights groups of war crimes.
Israel says it is acting in self-defense, takes great safeguards to avoid harming civilians and accuses Palestinian militants of endangering civilians by firing rockets from residential areas.
The report said the army made “considerate efforts” to avoid civilian casualties during the November fighting.
Last week, the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in the Hague said she had found sufficient evidence to open a formal war crimes investigation into Israeli battlefield practices during a 2014 war in Gaza, pending a ruling by the court on territorial jurisdiction.
Fatou Bensouda also said there was evidence that Hamas and other militant groups have intentionally targeted Israeli civilians and used Gaza’s own civilian population as human shields.
Israel has rejected Bensouda’s findings and says the court has no jurisdiction, in part because it says the military is capable of investigating itself. But human rights groups have accused the army of “whitewashing” wrongdoing by its forces.
Hamdan al-Sawarka, a relative of the Abu Malhous family, said the family hopes to sue the army in Israeli courts. He also called on the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority to pursue the case with the International Criminal Court.
“We will fight with utmost strength,” he said. “The Israelis have the best technology in the world. How can they claim in the 21st century that they don’t know about civilian presence?”