The three Palestinian children killed in Gaza on Tuesday were only playing near rocket launchers targeted by Israeli troops, and were not connected with the terrorists, an army probe determined Thursday.
Ten-year-old Mahmoud Ghazal and his 12-year-old cousin, Yehiya Ghazal, died immediately. Their 10-year-old cousin Sara Ghazal was critically injured and died later.
The Israel Defense Forces said the children were killed after an army ground unit fired on Qassam launchers in the area. The launchers, which were pointed at Israel, were deployed in fields just outside Beit Hanun, near the Ghazal family's home. According to the IDF, troops detected "unidentified movement and opened fire."
In the initial IDF statement after the incident on Tuesday, the army said it "wishes to express sorrow" for the "use of children in terror attacks," implying that the children had been sent by terrorists to collect the rocket launchers. The military has frequently accused terrorist organizations of using teenagers and children in this fashion.
But the probe, which was launched immediately after the incident, determined that the children were playing tag near the launchers, as revealed by army footage recording the incident. The video reportedly shows the children - who appear as figures whose age cannot be determined - approaching the launchers and then moving back, in a way that could be seen as suggesting that they were loading the launchers with rockets.
The terrain did not allow for direct observation of the area, so the army had to rely on aerial photography. The unit that launched the missile at the children used this visual feed to direct their fire, army sources told Haaretz.
The video does show one of the figures to be a child, army sources said, but this happened so close to the moment of impact that the troops were unable to abort in time.
IDF troops near the Gaza Strip are under orders to fire at rocket launchers only when terrorists approach them. The launchers themselves are easily replaceable and are of little value to the terrorist organizations, so the IDF prefers to target the terrorists who are directing the firing.
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