TEL AVIV, ISRAEL (AP) – Close to one-third of the Palestinians who died in the latest outbreak of violence between Israel and Gaza militants may have been killed by errant rockets fired by the Palestinian side, according to an Israeli military assessment that appears consistent with independent reporting by The Associated Press (AP).
The military said 47 Palestinians were killed in the weekend of fighting – at least 14 of them by militant-fired rockets that fell short.
No one in Gaza with direct knowledge of the explosions in question was willing to speak about them publicly. But live TV footage showed militant rockets falling short in densely packed residential neighbourhoods. And AP visits to the sites of two explosions that killed a total of 12 people lent support to suspicions they were caused by rockets that went off course.
In Gaza, the ruling Hamas militant group heavily polices dissent, and many Palestinians view armed groups as freedom fighters defending their homeland in the face of Israeli aggression.
Israel said it targeted only militants and made every effort to spare civilians. But at least one strike, which killed a senior militant commander in the southern city of Rafah late Saturday, also killed five civilians as Israel flattened one home and heavily damaged others.
The violence began on Friday, when Israel launched a wave of airstrikes against militants because of what the military described as an imminent threat to Israelis living near the Gaza frontier.
By the time a cease-fire took effect late Sunday, the militants had fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, and Israeli aircraft had struck dozens of suspected militant targets. The Israeli army said militants fired about 1,100 rockets, with about 200 landing inside the Palestinian enclave.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said 46 Palestinians were killed in the three days of fighting, including 16 children and four women. It does not differentiate between civilians and militants.
The militants said 12 of its fighters were killed, a smaller armed group said it lost a fighter, and Hamas said two Hamas-affiliated policemen who did not take part in the fighting were killed. Israel said it killed at least 20 militants and seven civilians.
Neither Hamas nor the militants responded to Israel’s claims that civilians were killed by misfired rockets. Instead, they have held Israel responsible for all the deaths.
Gaza-based human rights groups investigating the strikes also declined to address the claims. But their initial findings indicate that at least some of the explosions were questionable.
The Al-Mezan human rights group said some civilians were killed by “projectiles” rather than Israeli airstrikes. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) said it has so far confirmed that 27 people were killed by Israeli strikes – far below the overall toll.
PCHR director Raji Sourani said that the group has issued statements on only those incidents in which there was no ambiguity, and that the others will take more time to investigate because of “contradicting allegations.” He did not elaborate.