The three Palestinians killed by IDF tank fire on Sunday were not involved in terrorism and were fired at because they were thought to be aiming a rocket launcher at the border fence, an initial military inquiry concluded on Tuesday. The dead were a 91-year-old man, his 17-year-old grandson and a man aged 21.
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The incident took place on Sunday afternoon near the Erez checkpoint in the north of the Gaza Strip. Soldiers manning one of the IDF's permanent lookout posts noticed three men on agricultural land at the edge of the no-go zone that the military imposes along the border fence. One of them, apparently the 21-year-old, was seen lifting a loaded rocket-propelled-grenade launcher, and seemingly aiming it at the border fence and in the general direction of an IDF patrol. The force commanders estimated the man was a terrorist preparing to fire the rocket, and an IDF tank opened fire on the group, killing all three.
The commander of the Gaza division, Brig. Gen. Eyal Eisenberg, said in an Army Radio interview on Tuesday that an initial investigation by the army found the three appear to have been civilians not involved in terrorist activity, who found the rocket launcher on the spot and innocently picked it up. At the same time, other Palestinians in the area were firing mortar shells toward IDF tanks.
Eisenberg stressed that the inquiry was still in its early stages and that the last few days have seen a noticeable increase in attack attempts against IDF forces and rocket fire toward Israel. The army believes that although most of the attacks are carried out by Islamic Jihad, Hamas is not putting as much effort into preventing them as in the past.
Tuesday afternoon an anti-tank missile was fired toward an IDF force in the north of the Strip. No casualties were reported among the soldiers. A tank returned fire with shells and machine gun fire, killing one Palestinian.
"Hamas is the sovereign on the ground and we consider it responsible for every incident," Eisenberg told Army Radio. "I cannot confirm that the organization sanctions every attack, but the general atmosphere leads these organizations to carry out the shooting."
"Hamas is focusing on three specific efforts: Maintaining the humanitarian effort, improving its arsenal and fighting skill to try and attack IDF forces and balance out the military capabilities, and working to preserve the Hamas regime," said Eisenberg.