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Killing of Children on Gaza Beach Was a 'Tragic Accident', Says Israeli Military

The Israeli military said it mistook the four cousins, aged from 9 to 11, for Hamas gunmen as they played on a Gaza beach last summer. The attack drew international condemnation.
Photo by Khalil Hamra/AP

Israel has cleared itself of culpability in the killing of four Palestinian children in a missile attack on a Gaza beach during last summer's war, following an internal inquiry.

In a statement released on Thursday late at night — something Israel has done in the past when announcing the closure of similar investigations — the military said the boys' deaths were a tragic accident, caused because it mistook them for Hamas gunmen.

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The four boys, all cousins aged 9 to 11, were killed while playing on a beach off a coastal road west of Gaza City. Seven others — adults and children — were wounded in the same airstrike. The incident drew international attention and condemnation.

The father of one of the children said on Friday he was outraged by the announcement the military was closing its internal inquiry without indictments. He expressed hope that the incident would be part of a Palestinian war crimes case against Israel expected to be presented to the International Criminal Court.

"There is no justice in the internal investigation," Mohammed Bakr told the Associated Press. "We are counting on the ICC and human rights. We are not afraid and we are confident we will win because the world is with us."

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In the statement, military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said that "factual findings collected by the investigators" found the shelling targeted "an area that had long been known as a compound belonging to Hamas's Naval Police and Naval Force (including naval commandos), and which was utilized exclusively by militants."

But journalists who visited the scene found only a "small and dilapidated fisherman's hut" where the children had been playing hide and seek, reported the Guardian.

Witnesses at the time said a pair of Israeli airstrikes hit the beach; the first hit a container on a nearby jetty and the second struck the children as they were running away from the first strike.

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Lerner called the children's death "tragic" and said steps were being taken to "minimize the risk" of a similar incident happening again.

The war last summer between Israel and Hamas claimed the lives of more than 2,200 Palestinians and 73 people in Israel.

Hamas fired thousands of rockets at Israeli population centers and heavily armed Gaza militants tunneled into Israel for attacks during the 50-day war. Israel used airstrikes from jets, helicopters and drones as well as thousands of artillery rounds.

The military's announcement comes as Israel braces itself for an upcoming report on last summer's war by a United Nations commission.

Related: Palestine's Bid to Join International Criminal Court Sparks Ire from Israel

The Associated Press contributed to this report.