Israel army admits 'mistakes' over attack that killed Gaza family

Nine members of Sawarka family, including five children, were killed in November along with dozens more Palestinians.

    Nine members of the family were among 34 Palestinians killed in Israeli air raids over the Gaza Strip during fighting between Israel and Islamic Jihad in November [Hassan Jedi/Al Jazeera]
    Nine members of the family were among 34 Palestinians killed in Israeli air raids over the Gaza Strip during fighting between Israel and Islamic Jihad in November [Hassan Jedi/Al Jazeera]

    An attack in Gaza that killed nine members of the same family was due to faulty assessment of the risk to civilians, the Israeli army has said as it admitted "mistakes".

    Air attacks on November 14 targeted the home of Rasmi Abu Malhous, a Palestinian Authority (PA) employee in Gaza, and his brother Mohamed.

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    Nine members of the Sawarka family were killed by four attacks over their home in Deir al-Balah. Five victims were children.

    The air raids killed Rasmi, his second wife Maryam, 45, and three of his 11 children - three-year-old Salim, Mohannad, 12, and three-month-old Firas.

    The bombing also killed Mohamed's wife Yousra, 39, and two of their sons, Moaaz, seven, and Waseem, 13. Mohamed died on November 22 as a result of his wounds.

    They were among 34 Palestinians killed by Israeli air raids over the Gaza Strip during two days of cross-border fighting between Israel and the Islamic Jihad group. At least 63 Israelis also received treatment for injuries from rocket fire from Gaza.

    The Israeli army claimed it targeted the house of a military commander belonging to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad armed group, an allegation rejected by the victims' family.

    Israeli statement

    In its statement on Tuesday, the Israeli army said intelligence collected ahead of the attack had indicated that the residence "was designated as an Islamic Jihad terror organisation military compound".

    The army had "estimated" that "civilians would not be harmed as a result of an attack" on the site, which was not believed to be accessible to members of the public.

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    An army inquiry later found "that even though military activity was conducted in the compound, it was not a closed compound, and in reality, civilians were present there," it said.

    The army said it would learn from its "mistakes" to reduce "the recurrence of similar irregular events."

    It stressed it had made "considerable efforts ... to reduce the damage to non-combatants".

    The military report also blamed Islamic Jihad for exploiting and endangering non-combatants "by placing its military assets in the heart of the civilian population and by deliberately acting from within densely populated civilian areas."

    Gaza Israel Islamic Jihad
     The Israeli army claimed it targeted the house of a military commander belonging to Islamic Jihad, an allegation rejected by the victims' family [File: Mohammed Saber/EPA]

    False Israeli claims

    The two sides began exchanging fire after Israel killed Islamic Jihad top commander Bahaa Abu al-Ata in Gaza. In response, Islamic Jihad fired rockets into southern Israel, with Israel's military saying it recorded more than 350 projectiles.

    A ceasefire, reportedly brokered by Egypt, was declared the morning after the Sawarka family was targeted.

    Mohamad Awad, a member of the Sawarka Bedouin tribe and a neighbour of the family, told Al Jazeera the Israeli bombing was a "war crime" because Rasmi and his brother Mohamed were civilians and had nothing to do with any armed groups.

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    "They raised sheep and were barely making ends meet before they were killed," he said.

    Awad denied the Israeli army's claim that Rasmi was a member of Islamic Jihad, and said he was an employee of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) government.

    In its Tuesday report, the Israeli army claimed its November operation was an overall success, dealing a blow to Islamic Jihad and increasing the security of Israeli civilians.

    In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Israeli army spokesman Avichay Adraee said on Twitter the attack targeted the head of the Islamic Jihad's rocket unit, whom he identified as Rasmi Abu Malhous.

    "Rasmi Abu Malhous, leader of Islamic Jihad and the commander of the rocket unit in the central Gaza brigade, was the target of last night in the raid on Deir al-Balah," Adraee said.

    Israeli newspaper Haaretz had quoted an Israeli army official as saying Adraee's claim appeared to have been based on false rumours spread online.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies