IDF denies killing Gazan baby and pregnant woman, blames failed rocket launch
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IDF denies killing Gazan baby and pregnant woman, blames failed rocket launch

Military’s Arabic-language spokesman says there are ‘more and more indications’ that Hamas-run health ministry lied about cause of death

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Smoke billows above buildings during an Israeli airstike on Gaza City in response to rocket fire from the coastal enclave on May 4, 2019. (Mahmud Hams / AFP)
Smoke billows above buildings during an Israeli airstike on Gaza City in response to rocket fire from the coastal enclave on May 4, 2019. (Mahmud Hams / AFP)

The Israeli military denied Palestinian claims that a 14-month-old baby and her pregnant aunt were killed in an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip on Saturday, instead blaming a terror group’s failed rocket launch for their deaths.

Throughout the day terrorists in the coastal enclave fired upwards of 250 rockets and mortar shells at southern Israel. In response, the Israeli military bombed over 120 targets in the Gaza Strip connected to the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups.

On Saturday evening, the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry reported that a 14-month-old Palestinian child, Saba Mahmoud Hamdan Abu Arar, had been killed along with her aunt, Falastin Saleh Abu Arar, when an Israeli airstrike hit their house in Gaza City.

On Twitter, the Israel Defense Forces’ Arabic-language spokesman, Maj. Avichay Adraee, said the woman and child did not appear to have been killed in an Israeli attack.

Adraee indicated that the deaths may have been caused by a failed rocket attack against Israel, noting that many of the projectiles fired at Israel were launched from within populated areas.

“There are more and more indications reaching us from the Gaza Strip that put serious doubt on the truth of the statement from Hamas’s healthy ministry about the death of the baby Saba Mahmoud Hamdan Abu Arar and her mother Falastin Saleh Abu Arar,” Adraee wrote in a tweet. (Initially, the two were incorrectly reported as being mother and child, later their relationship was clarified.)

“According to these indications, the death was caused by terrorist activities by Palestinian militants and not by an Israeli strike,” he said.

Earlier in the day, the IDF said it was only striking military targets in the Gaza Strip.

The Gaza health ministry did not respond to Adraee’s claim, but continued to include Saba, Falastin and Falastin’s unborn baby in its casualty toll.

In addition, the ministry said two Palestinian men were killed in Israeli strikes Saturday: Imad Muhammad Nasir, 22, and Khaled Mohammed Abu Qliq 25.

The latter was reportedly killed in an airstrike as he and several other men were launching rockets at Israel. Some 40 other people were wounded to varying degrees in the Israeli strikes, according to the ministry.

The blast that killed the pregnant woman and child occurred in the Zeitoun neighborhood in eastern Gaza City.

An AFP journalist at the scene reported significant damage to a building there. Neighbors said an area outside had been hit by an Israeli strike.

The fresh exchange — one of the larger battles of the past year — began on Friday evening when Palestinians in the Strip shot two soldiers on patrol near the border in southern Gaza. A male soldier was moderately wounded, and a female soldier was lightly hurt, the IDF said. In response, the Israeli military bombed a Hamas post, killing several of the terror group’s operatives.

A woman looks at the damage caused by a rocket fired from Gaza that hit a house in a community in Israel near the border with Gaza, Saturday, May 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

On Saturday morning, terror groups in the Strip began launching rockets and mortar shells at Israel. As of Saturday night, over 250 projectiles had been fired, most of them at the towns closest to the Gaza border, but some reached as far as Beersheba, Rehovot and Ashdod. At least three Israeli civilians were wounded in the attacks, including a woman who was seriously injured.

In response, the military launched a series of strikes from air and land, hitting targets throughout the coastal enclave connected to Hamas, the Islamist group that rules Gaza, and the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist organization.

As of Saturday night, the fighting between Israel and terror groups in the Strip showed no signs of slowing.

The Israeli army said it was prepared to continue conducting airstrikes if the attacks from Gaza continue. Terror groups in the enclave made similar threats, saying they would attack deeper into Israel if the IDF continued its strikes.

A senior Israeli official told Channel 13 news that there is growing understanding there will not be an immediate return to calm on the southern border, with an expectation of “at least two to three days of fighting.”

Agencies contributed to this report.

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