The four Palestinian children killed while playing on a beach in Gaza on July 16, 2014, during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge were victims of missiles fired from armed Israeli drones, a secret Israeli military report obtained by the American news website, The Intercept, has revealed.
The children – Ismail, Ahed, Zakaria and Mohammed – were cousins and were aged between 9 and 11. Four other children from the same family who were playing in the same area were also wounded in the drone strikes.
The confidential report, which was hidden from the public until now, revealed that the Israeli military officers in charge of the attack told investigators that they had mistaken the group of boys to be Hamas militants.
According to the report, a small shipping container had been destroyed nearby a day before the attacks. The Israeli military said it believed the container had been used by Hamas’s naval force to store weapons.
However, this assessment has been questioned by journalists, eyewitnesses and experts who report not seeing any Hamas members visiting the shipping container. Nor was there a second explosion after the Israeli strike, which should have been the case if it contained explosives.
The next day, two Israeli drones recorded a figure entering the shipping container, which was one of the four children. Subsequently, an Israeli air force commander ordered one of the two armed drones to strike the container, instantly killing the child who was inside.
A second missile struck the other children still on the beach as they were trying to run away from the spot, leading to three more deaths and four injuries. According to the report, after the first strike, Israeli drone operators had asked for a superior officer’s authorization to continue the attack. Not receiving a response, they went ahead and fired the second missile.
According to the testimonies in the investigation, none of the military officers responsible for the strikes could not tell that the targets were children. The Israeli army conducted a review of the mission and recommended a military police investigation to look for possible criminal negligence.
A report was then submitted 11 months after the attack to the Israel’s military advocate general, Major General Danny Efroni. Efroni closed the investigation without filing any charges. Israel’s chief military prosecutor also decided that no further criminal or disciplinary measures would be taken, reasoning that it was impossible for the officers involved in the strikes to ascertain that their eventual targets were children.
The Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, reported that this was perhaps the first time that the state of Israel had acknowledged the use of drones to carry out airstrikes. The Intercept also stated that this was perhaps the “most direct evidence that Israel has used armed drones to launch attacks on Gaza.”