Missile killing of 4 Gaza boys not a crime, Israel rules

ARCHIVE PHOTO: A Palestinian man salvages belongings from damaged buildings in the Shejaia neighbourhood, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during an Israeli offensive, in Gaza City July 27, 2014. (Reuters / Finbarr O'Reilly)
Mistaking boys playing in a Gaza beach area for Hamas fighters and firing two missiles at them, killing four, is a tragic accident and not a reason to press criminal charges, an Israeli military magistrate’s office ruled.

"The case has been closed following the completion of a criminal investigation," the IDF said in a statement on Thursday.

The incident in question happened on July 16 last year as the Israeli Defense Force was engaged in a 50-day war with the Hamas militant movement. The hostilities killed some 2,200 Palestinians, including at least 1,492 civilians, according to a UN count. Among them were four boys aged between nine and 11. They were killed by two missiles fired by the IDF.

The attack, which also injured two other boys and a 21-year-old man sparked outrage, as journalists reporting on the aftermath of the hit said there was no apparent military target in the vicinity. Israel launched a criminal investigation into the episode, which resulted this week in a decision not to press charges against anyone.

An IDF report into the missile strike says the compound in question, located in the breakwater of the Gaza City seashore area, was presumed to be a Hamas naval force facility that no civilians would have access to. It was targeted by several attacks in the prior days, including one on the day before the incident.

Israeli intelligence spotted several people entering the installation at running speed and it was presumed they were Hamas commandos, according to the report. An Israeli aircraft launched a missile, killing one of the alleged fighters and then a second one as the remaining people tried to flee.

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It was later established that the people killed were just kids, who had come to the beach to play hide and seek and soccer. The IDF insists it couldn’t identify the targets as minors prior to the attack.

The Israeli report is based on a large number of testimonies of IDF soldiers and officers, who were involved in the attack, documents relating to it and footage of the missile strike in real time. Three Gaza strip residents provided affidavits, but declined to meet Israeli investigators in person, the report said.

Some media outlets challenged this, including the Guardian, who had a reporter at the site. The British newspaper said the compound was in plain sight of nearby hotels where foreign journalists lived and that none of them had seen any military forces there.

The facility is easily accessible from a side lane and is located in a busy public area, the newspaper added. Journalists reporting on the incident didn’t mention any military equipment found on the site.

A total of 190 incidents relating to the war were referred to the IDF magistrate’s office, according to the Jerusalem Post. Of them, 105 were reviewed and sent to Military Advocate-General Major General Danny Efroni to decide whether they gave cause for indictment.

The general has opened 22 criminal investigations to date. Two of them have been closed and three others led to further prosecution on theft-related charges. Nineteen cases have been closed as Efroni decided there was no basis to indict.

The decision to close the beach missile attack case by the IDF comes as Israeli actions during Operation Protective Eagle are being investigated by the International Criminal Court. The probe is looking into alleged war crimes committed during the conflict by both parties involved. Many expect the report will be damning for Israel.