JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel’s killing of four Palestinian boys in an air strike on a Gaza beach during the 2014 war was a case of mistaken identity that does not warrant criminal charges, the military says.
Witnessed by several foreign reporters, the July 16 attack fueled censure abroad of Israel’s assault on the Hamas-run enclave. The Israelis have been conducting internal investigations of possible military misconduct while trying to fend off war-crimes allegations by various U.N. bodies.
Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, said the air force fired on the four boys after failing to identify them as children and believing they were gunmen running in an area “utilized exclusively by militants”.
Witnesses said the boys were playing soccer at the time.
“After reviewing the investigation’s findings, the Military Advocate General found that the attack process in question accorded with Israeli domestic law and international law requirements,” Lerner said on Facebook. He called the deaths “tragic”.
Launched after a surge of cross-border rocket fire by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups, Israel’s two-month offensive killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians. Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel also died.
Israel says it tried to prevent civilian casualties and accuses Hamas of inviting these by operating inside urban areas. Israel’s critics accuse it of wanton tactics and impunity.
In a separate statement, the military said it was also closing the cases on July 21 and July 29 attacks on residential buildings that killed 22 Palestinians. A July 9 attack on a Gaza cafe that killed 9 people was under criminal investigation, it said, as well allegations that troops abused a Palestinian detainee and illegally fired on a Gaza medical clinic.
Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Michael Perry