Hind Rajab: Were Israeli troops around where the six-year-old was killed?

Al Jazeera has analysed the final hours of a 6-year-old who begged to be rescued as Israeli tanks closed in on her.

Palestinian girl Hind Rajab poses for a photograph, in this undated handout picture
Palestinian girl Hind Rajab poses for a photograph in this undated handout picture obtained by Reuters on February 10, 2024 [Palestine Red Crescent Society/Reuters]

An Al Jazeera investigation has shown three Israeli tanks around the car where a six-year-old girl was killed after hours of pleading for help.

However, Israel’s army denied this on Saturday, saying its troops were not in the area on January 29, the day Hind Rajab and her family were killed.

Here’s the whole story, what Israel claims and how Al Jazeera investigators put Israeli tanks at the scene of the killing:

What happened to Hind?

Hind’s story travelled around the world when a phone recording of what’s now understood to be her and her family’s final moments went viral on social media.

On the call, which lasted for about three hours, Hind begged rescue workers to come save her after the family’s car came under fire and she became the sole survivor, stranded inside with her dead relatives.

Two dispatchers with the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) sent to save her were also killed.

The PRCS has accused Israel of deliberately targeting the medical team despite back and forth between the organisation and the army as the medics tried to get permission to evacuate Hind.

Hind and her cousins are just some of the thousands of children killed in Israel’s relentless war on Gaza in violation of international law. Nearly 30,000 people have died in Gaza since October 7.

school graduation photo of Hind Rajab [Courtesy of Ghada Ageel]
Six-year-old Hind Rajab [Courtesy of Ghada Ageel]

What has Israel said?

According to a report by the Times of Israel, Israeli officials said an initial investigation showed that troops were not present in the Tal al-Hawa suburb of Gaza City on January 29 when Hind and five other family members were killed.

“It appears that … troops were not present near the vehicle or within firing range of the described vehicle in which the girl was found,” a statement from the Israeli army read.

The statement directly contradicts the evidence as recorded in the circulating phone call between the PRCS and Hind.

“Also, given the lack of forces in the area, there was no need for individual coordination of the movement of the ambulance or another vehicle to pick up the girl,” the statement said, which goes counter to PRCS’s statement that it had been working to coordinate with the Israeli army.

The statement went on to claim that medics are moving without restriction throughout the Gaza Strip, which goes against multiple accounts out of Gaza.

What did Al Jazeera find?

Sanad, Al Jazeera’s investigations unit, analysed phone records and satellite imagery to prove that there were Israeli troops near the car belonging to Hind’s family that day.

The vehicle, the investigation found, had been stopped by the Israeli military near a petrol station in Tal al-Hawa around early afternoon on January 29.

A phone call from Hind’s uncle to a relative in Germany triggered the PRCS intervention. Al Jazeera obtained messages between the relatives, time-stamping the last few hours of the deadly ordeal when Hind and one of her cousins, 15-year-old Layan, were still alive.

Layan, who was the first on the call with the PRCS, identified Israeli tanks near the car, saying: “They are firing at us; the tank is beside me.” Within minutes, a round of what sounded like gunfire went off and a screaming Layan went quiet.

When Hind picked up the phone and spoke to the PRCS, she also identified Israeli military vehicles near the family car. “The tank is next to me. [It’s] coming from the front of the car,” she said. Around three hours later, the connection with Hind was cut off.

Al Jazeera’s analysis of satellite images taken at midday on January 29 corroborated Hind and Layan’s accounts, and put at least three Israeli tanks just 270m (886 feet) from the family’s car, with their guns pointed at it.

When rescuers found the remains of Hind and her family on February 10, the car was riddled with bullet holes likely coming from more than one direction.

What happened to the ambulance?

Medics Yusuf Zeino and Ahmed al-Madhoun arrived at the scene around 6pm on January 29, after hours of the PRCS trying to get permission from the Israeli army.

“I’m nearly there,” Zeino told his colleagues as the ambulance edged closer to Hind. But the two rescue workers never got to her.“We heard gunfire, we couldn’t imagine [they] would fire at them,” Rana Faqih, the PRCS official who held the line with Hind, told Al Jazeera. After the gunfire, there was complete silence.

It was only 12 days later on February 10 that the remains of the two men were found, following the Israeli military’s withdrawal. The ambulance was destroyed and appeared to have been run over by a tank, according to Sanad’s analysis.

What next?

The United States, Israel’s number-one ally, has called for probes into the killing of Hind, her family, and the medics.

US Department of State spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters: “We have asked the Israeli authorities to investigate this incident on an urgent basis.”

After the initial finding into Hind’s case was released on Saturday, Israeli officials told local reporters the investigation has been transferred to the General Staff Fact-Finding Assessment Mechanism for further analysis.

Similar Israeli investigations have not been straightforward. Authorities denied the May 2022 killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh for several months before admitting that Israeli gunfire had killed the veteran journalist, claiming it was “not intentional”.

 

Source: Al Jazeera