Killing of four cousins an error, says Israel

‘This is a cowardly crime’, says Gaza health ministry as a fifth child is critical

Four Palestinian children were killed yesterday in an Israeli air strike on a Gaza beach, providing horrific images that Israel fears may turn world public opinion against its ongoing military campaign.

Palestinian medical officials said the four cousins, all under 15, were playing football on the beach when two missiles struck.

Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesman for the Gaza health ministry, said four of the youngsters were killed and a fifth youth was in critical condition.

“This is a cowardly crime,” he said.

Israeli officials expressed regret and the army said it was investigating the incident but it appeared a pilot had mistakenly identified the children as militants.

The homes of four Hamas leaders were also destroyed in Israeli air strikes yesterday.

Civilian death toll

More than 220 residents of Gaza have been killed so far and over 1,500 wounded. A senior Israeli military source confirmed that at least half the casualties were civilians.

Yesterday, the Israeli army warned residents in the northern and eastern parts of Gaza city to evacuate their homes ahead of a planned strike, but residents from the Shuja’iyya and Zeitoun neighbourhoods largely ignored the Israeli warnings, partly due to Hamas counter-warnings urging residents to stay put.

The Israeli cabinet yesterday approved the call-up of an additional 8,000 reservists, bringing to 56,000 the number approved. The move was seen as another indication that Israel still considers a ground offensive a real option if ceasefire talks fail to end the violence in the coming days.

A military source confirmed yesterday that Israeli naval commandos have carried out more than 20 missions inside Gaza against rocket-launching positions since the start of the war. Militant rocket fire from Gaza continued throughout the day yesterday, including a heavy barrage aimed at Tel Aviv.

Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, speaking at a news conference with visiting Italian foreign minister Federica Mogherini, said that because Hamas rejected the Egyptian ceasefire proposals Israel will continue to act until peace and quiet prevail.

“I think that the most important thing vis-a-vis Gaza is to ensure that Gaza is demilitarised from rockets and from the attack tunnels that Hamas is building into Israel,” he said. “Israel has to take the actions to defend its citizens as any normal country would against terrorists who are committing double war crimes of targeting civilians and hiding behind civilians.”

Truce proposal

Hamas representatives held talks in Cairo yesterday with Egyptian officials on a truce proposal, amid reports Hamas was proposing a 10-year ceasefire to boost the economy. The proposals include a sea and airport built under UN supervision, lifting the blockade and opening of the Rafah crossing with Egypt.