TEL-AVIV, Israel — Nearly a third of the Palestinians who died in the latest flare-up of violence between Israel and militants in Gaza may have been killed by errant rockets fired by the Palestinian side, according to an Israeli military assessment that appears consistent with independent government information. ‘Associated Press.
The Israeli army said 47 Palestinians were killed during the weekend fighting, including at least 14 by rockets fired by Islamic Jihad that were not enough.
No one in Gaza with direct knowledge of the explosions in question would speak about them publicly. But live television footage showed militant rockets fell short in densely populated residential areas. And AP visits to the sites of two explosions that killed a total of 12 people confirmed suspicions that they were caused by deflected rockets.
Israel claims victory in the weekend clash, in part because it killed two senior Islamic Jihad commanders and because no Israelis were killed or seriously injured. If it turned out that Islamic Jihad had harmed some of those it claimed to protect, the result would be even more humiliating for the militant group and its main sponsor, Iran.
In Gaza, the ruling Hamas militant group strongly controls dissent, and many Palestinians view the armed groups as freedom fighters defending their homeland from Israeli aggression.
Israel said it was targeting militants only and doing everything possible to spare civilians. But at least one strike, which killed a top Islamic Jihad commander in the southern town of Rafah on Saturday night, also killed five civilians as Israel razed a house and heavily damaged others.
The violence began on Friday, when Israel launched a wave of airstrikes against Islamic Jihad over what the military described as an imminent threat to Israelis living near the Gaza border. By the time a ceasefire took effect on Sunday evening, Islamic Jihad had fired hundreds of rockets into Israel and Israeli aircraft had struck dozens of suspected militant targets.
The Israeli army said the militants fired around 1,100 rockets, of which around 200 landed 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. He makes no distinction between civilians and militants.
Islamic Jihad said 12 of its fighters were killed, a smaller armed group said it lost one 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 Islamic Jihad have responded to Israel’s claims that civilians were killed by failed rockets. Instead, they held Israel responsible for all the deaths.
Gaza-based human rights groups investigating the strikes also declined to respond to the allegations. But their initial findings indicate that at least some of the explosions were questionable.
Human rights group Al-Mezan said some civilians were killed by “projectiles” rather than Israeli airstrikes. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights said it had so far confirmed that 27 people had been killed by Israeli strikes, well below the overall toll.
PCHR director Raji Sourani said the group only released statements on incidents where there was no ambiguity, and others would take longer to investigate due to ” conflicting allegations”. He did not specify.
“We need eyewitnesses, shrapnel, videos and evidence,” he said. “There must be an investigation.
Suspicions fall on three explosions in which at least 15 civilians were killed.
On Saturday evening, seven Palestinians were killed in an explosion in the overcrowded Jebaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza. The Israeli army said it had not carried out any operations in the area at the time. He released video footage allegedly showing a barrage of militant rockets, one of which fell short.
Islamic Jihad had announced a rocket attack on the city of Ashkelon in southern Israel, just north of Jebaliya, around the same time as the blast.
Video footage of the aftermath circulated online, showing what appeared to be a rocket casing protruding from the ground in a narrow, busy street. When the AP visited the site on Monday, the casing was missing and the hole had been filled with dirt. Palestinians are generally keen to show the international media evidence of Israeli airstrikes.
Al-Mezan attributed the explosion to a “projectile”, and PCHR said it was still investigating.
An explosion on Sunday night killed five Palestinians between the ages of 4 and 17 at a cemetery in Jebaliya, also around the same time Islamic Jihad announced a barrage of rockets. The Israeli army said it was investigating.
Visiting the two sites in Jebaliya, the AP saw none of the telltale signs of an Israeli strike – the wide craters left by F-16s or the narrow holes left by drone strikes.
In a third suspicious explosion, one of the off-duty Hamas-affiliated policemen was killed on Sunday along with three of his young children in the Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza. Hamas, a far more powerful militant group that has fought four wars with Israel, has stayed out of the latest fighting, and Israel appears to have been careful not to target it.
Al-Mezan and PCHR said they are still investigating this episode.
Krauss reported from Ottawa, Ontario. Associated Press writer Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed to this report.