When the first missile hit the retaining wall of the small Gaza Harbor, shortly after 4 P.M this afternoon, Peter Beaumont was just finishing an analysis piece before filing to his newspaper, The Guardian in London. Beaumont, the Guardian's Jerusalem correspondent was sitting on the beach-facing terrace al-Deira Hotel.
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"The internet works better there than in the rooms so a lot of us do our writing there. So I literally was looking in that direction when I hear an almighty bang and saw an explosion on the pier wall," he told Haaretz.
Beaumont, who has been in Gaza for the last nine days, said that during the time he has been at the hotel, that area of the harbor has been hit by the IDF "at least three times." Following the explosion, "on the retaining wall there were puffs of smoke and we saw four people running along it. They ran all along until they reached the beach and jumped down. They were turning and running towards us and through the smoke you can see they were children." The second explosion came about forty seconds after the first and around thirty meters away. According to Beaumont "there was no warning signal or sound of airplanes before the explosions."
The second explosion was right behind the group of three children and one young man who were running in the direction of the hotel. "You couldn't mistake them even through the smoke, it was obvious they were children. The oldest one who was thirteen looked to me as if he was eight. These were dinky raggedy fisherman kids wearing shorts."
"We didn't think they had been injured at that stage" Beaumont says "and one of them, the 21-year-old, comes up and he's been hit in the abdomen and in a lot pain. He was about to faint and the waiters caught him and bundled him into a taxi to the hospital. We got some med kits from the rooms and the three kids are sitting in the corner of the terrace. One had blood in his T-shirt and we pulled it up found a shrapnel wound in his chest. So I began cleaning his wound and dressing and checking his breathing. Another of the kids was also seen to, he had quite a lot of abrasions. Then the ambulance came and took them to Shifa Hospital."
As Beaumont and other journalists were tending to the wounded, on the harbor wall lay the bodies of four other children who had been playing nearby and were killed in the strike. Ahed Bakr and Zakari Bakr, both aged ten and two boys by the name of Mohammad Bakr, aged nine and eleven. All cousins and sons of fishermen who use that section of the harbor.
It isn't clear at this stage whether the four were killed by the first or second explosion. "My impression was they were killed in the first explosion and that the second didn't kill anyone," says Beaumont. "Later when we visited Hamad (the boy with the shrapnel wound) at Shifa, he said that one was killed in the first explosion and three others in the second, but I'm not sure how much a traumatized boy can recollect clearly what happened there."
The initial reports coming from journalists on the scene attributed the explosions to gunfire from Israeli Navy boats that have been firing at targets on the coast in recent days. Beaumont who has covered many wars including Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia, says that after he and colleagues began getting a clearer picture, he reached the conclusion that it was most likely an air strike. "Usually when we hear the naval gunfire we hear after the explosion also the sound of the guns, from a few kilometers out to sea. After everything settled down, I realized we didn't hear any firing out to sea."
The IDF Spokesperson unit had difficulty coming up with an explanation for the explosions which killed the four children and wounded others and it took a few hours for them to begin to respond. Toward 8 P.M they began briefing reporters that the first explosion was most likely caused by an attack on a "legitimate" Hamas target and the second the result of misidentification of the fleeing children as Hamas fighters. The incident is still under investigation, said IDF Spokesperson Brigadier General Moti Almoz. He said on Channel One that "we understand there was a target which was hit after suspects were identified.
Remember that Hamas uses civilians as live targets opposite IDF. I don't know officers and soldiers who intentionally act against civilians." Almoz said that from what the IDF knows so far "this wasn't fire by the navy but likely an IAF strike."
Beaumont says that he has no idea what the target could have been. "The building that was hit was just a shipping container next to where one of the kids' father keeps his boat and stores fishing nets. The kids were just playing hide and seek there. They shoot missiles (against Israel) from this neighborhood but none from that location."