Ninth member of family hit in Gaza strike dies of wounds
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Ninth member of family hit in Gaza strike dies of wounds

Mohammed al-Sawarka becomes the latest of the Sawarka family to die from an Israeli airstrike that has been called into question during fighting with Islamic Jihad

Palestinians mourn over the bodies of Rasmi Abu Malhous and seven of his family members who were killed in an Israeli missile strike that targeted their house, in a mosque during their funeral in town of Deir el-Balah, central Gaza Strip, November 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Palestinians mourn over the bodies of Rasmi Abu Malhous and seven of his family members who were killed in an Israeli missile strike that targeted their house, in a mosque during their funeral in town of Deir el-Balah, central Gaza Strip, November 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

A Palestinian man wounded in an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip that killed eight members of the same family has died, the Hamas-run health ministry said Friday.

Mohammed al-Sawarka, 40, succumbed to injuries sustained during the November 14 strike in the central Gaza city of Deir el-Balah, according to the ministry.

He was the ninth member of the Sawarka family to be killed in the strike, which came during a two-day flareup in Gaza that followed Israel’s elimination of Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror commander Baha Abu al-Ata.

Among the relatives killed in the strike in Deir al-Balah were a man, two women and five children under the age of 13. Palestinian officials said 12 others were wounded in the airstrike.

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 week, and the claim appeared to have been based on false rumors that were spread on civilian channels on the Telegram application.

Avichai Adraee, the spokesman, said on Monday his posts were “imprecise.”

A barefoot Palestinian boy and others look into a crater made in overnight Israeli missile strikes that destroyed a house and killed eight members of the Abu Malhous family, in Deir el-Balah, central Gaza Strip, November 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

According to Haaretz, the home that was targeted in the strike was identified in the past as a Islamic Jihad-controlled site, but authorities had not recently confirmed the information. The newspaper also said that it found that the aim of the strike was not to kill a Islamic Jihad commander but rather destroy infrastructure belonging to the terror group.

It also said that Deir al-Balah residents described the home as a tin shack.

During the escalation last week, 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.

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. Haaretz’s story did not say that an operative in the terror group lived in the house.

Another neighbor, who spoke to al-Wataniya, a Gaza-based news outlet, said the family had no involvement with terror groups in the coastal enclave.

A photo issued by the IDF purporting to show Rasmi Abu Malhous, described by an IDF spokesman as an Islamic Jihad terrorist said to head the group’s rocket unit, who the IDF said was killed in an airstrike in Gaza early on November 14, 2019. Subsequent reports cast doubt on the claim (via Twitter)

The military said in a statement Sunday that Adraee’s post was written on the basis of the information that was initially received, and that the strike as well as the identification of Abu Malhous were under investigation.

The United Nations envoy for the Middle East has called on Israel “to move swiftly” with its investigation into the strike.

Since Hamas seized power in Gaza in 2007, Israel has fought three wars and dozens of skirmishes against terrorist groups. While the wars have inflicted heavy damage on Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad group, hundreds of civilians have also died in Israeli airstrikes.

The civilian death toll has drawn heavy international criticism, and the International Criminal Court in The Hague has opened a preliminary investigation into Israel’s battlefield tactics.

Israel rejects the criticism, saying it takes numerous precautions to prevent unnecessary civilian casualties.

It says its targets are based on sophisticated intelligence and cleared by legal advisers and other experts, and that it often warns inhabitants to evacuate before their homes are struck. It says it has fine-tuned its guided missiles, delivering small payloads that minimize damage beyond the precise target.

Adam Rasgon and agencies contributed to this report.

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