The Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday defended an airstrike that killed nine civilian members of the same family in Gaza last month, saying the compound targeted was used by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group and that it did not anticipate that civilians would be killed there.
Announcing that it had concluded its review of “Operation Black Belt,” which was sparked by Israel’s targeted killing of PIJ commander Baha Abu al-Ata last month, the army said “military activity had been conducted in the compound in the past as well as during the combat days of [the operation].”
“The review also concluded that when planning and carrying out the attack [in Deir el-Balah], it was estimated in the IDF that civilians would not be harmed as a result of an attack,” the IDF said in a statement. “The [review] clarified that even though military activity was conducted in the compound, it was not a closed compound, and in reality civilians were present there.”
The army said its investigation included recommendations on how to avoid such “irregular events” in the future, but didn’t give further details.
The IDF’s Arabic-language spokesman initially claimed on social media that the strike targeted the head of Islamic Jihad’s rocket unit, whom he identified as Rasmi Abu Malhous.
However, no such figure exists in the Islamic Jihad organization, IDF officials told the Haaretz daily last month, and the claim appeared to have been based on false rumors that were spread on civilian channels on the Telegram application.
Neighbors who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Associated Press that Rasmi’s brother, who they claimed was an Islamic Jihad commander, lived in the home, but they said that he was not there at the time of the strike
Abu Malhous was killed, along with his wife, brother, sister-in-law and five children under the age of 13, including his 7-year-old son and two nephews, aged 2 and 3.
Haaretz reported that the IDF’s “target bank” which included the Sawarka family’s home targeted in the strike had not been updated to show that the site was no longer the home of a PIJ commander. Moreover, the daily interviewed a pair of Air Force pilots who said there is substantial pressure on their unit to produce as many targets as possible and that limited review is carried out on existing ones once they are in the target bank.
During the escalation of violence last month, Palestinian terror groups fired 450 or so rockets and mortars at Israel, which responded with many retaliatory strikes in Gaza. While the Israeli military said as many as 25 terrorists were killed in the days of fighting, Palestinian human rights monitors said the dead included 18 terror operatives and 16 civilians. They included three women and eight minors.