The Israeli military on Thursday cleared itself of charges of suspected criminal conduct over last year’s bombing of a beach in the Gaza Strip that led to the deaths of four Palestinian children. The incident, which had been witnessed by several journalists covering the war, was labeled a “tragic accident” by the office of Israel’s advocate general.
The attack, which took place on July 15 -- a week into the 50-day long war in the region -- had killed Ahed Atef Bakr and Zakaria Ahed Bakr, both aged 10, nine-year-old Mohamed Ramez Bakr and 11-year-old Ismail Mohamed Bakr.
“The investigation's findings show that due to the circumstances, the forces who took part in the strike had no way of identifying that the figures spotted by aerial surveillance were in fact children,” Israeli military prosecutors said, in a statement, according to Haaretz.
While journalists who witnessed the bombings said that the explosions took place on a “quay at the port” at the beach, the Israeli military claimed that the airstrikes had targeted a Hamas compound filled with the group's commandos.
“Shortly before the incident, an intelligence assessment was established which indicated that operatives from Hamas's Naval Forces would gather in the military compound in order to prepare for military activity against the IDF[Israel Defense Forces]. … It should be stressed that the figures were not identified at any point during the incident, as children,” Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said, in a statement released Thursday. “Accordingly, the Military Advocate General ordered that the investigation file be closed without any further legal proceedings -- criminal or disciplinary -- to be taken against those involved in the incident.”
The conclusion of the probe comes at a time when Israel is facing a preliminary investigation by the International Criminal Court over alleged war crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories. A delegation from the ICC is due to arrive in Israel on June 27 to determine if there is enough evidence to justify an inquiry, according to media reports.
Meanwhile, the Israeli military also announced the opening of three other internal investigations into incidents concerning its soldiers' conduct during last year’s offensive. One of these is reportedly based on a testimony given by an Israel soldier to the activist group “Breaking the Silence” -- composed of active Israeli soldiers and veterans.
The group had, in a report published last month, accused the Israeli military of employing a “policy of indiscriminate fire” during the war, which it says directly resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian civilians.